When my three children were younger and money was tight, we would find ways to add to their toys without purchasing items. One of the things the girls loved was a silver tray and tumblers just the right size for Barbie. The silver tray was the top of a Nestle's Quik box. The tumblers were harder to obtain. A friend whose husband hunts provided us with empty bullet shells which are perfect tumblers for Barbie. Small pieces of left-over material and popsicle sticks were used to create a tent for GI Joe, not to be outdone by Barbie.
When one of the children experienced difficulty with understanding fractions, we saved plastic lids from coffee cans. Each of these was divided into a different number of pizza slices by drawing lines with a marker and a ruler. The numbers were drawn in different colors . The lids were then cut apart and readied to form the fraction pizza. It then became a really easy visual for the children to put together 1/3, 1/4, 1/2, 1/5, 1/8, 1/6, etc. The pizza pieces were then placed in a clean saved pizza box so that they could be used and reviewed as necessary.
By Marie from NJ
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What clever ideas! I especially love the silver tray and tumblers!
When saving household item for frugal toys, do not give children anything that could be a choking hazzard. No frugality is worth a child's safety!
My favorite, right up there with the tray and tumblers, is the "fraction pizza" visual. You're sure teaching your kids more than fractions, though! I kinda miss the days when kids were happier playing with things that sparked the imagination.
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Making Wood Blocks
You can make great wood blocks for very little money using scrap wood. Start with untreated lumber, cut the wood into various sizes, sand off any rough edges, stain the wood and then seal them with polyurethane. You can even let your kids paint pictures on the blocks before you apply the polyurethane.
Recycled plastic food containers or old tupperware containers are great for making sand castles or playing in the bathtub. They also can usually be stored within one another so they don't take up much space when they are not being played with.
Water fights can be a lot of fun in the summer time. Squirt bottles and spray bottles for dish soap or hand soap that are thoroughly cleaned can make great water guns for small children. Fill up some water balloons as well and let the games begin.
Frisbees are inexpensive and give children an opportunity to be outside. It's wonderful exercise and a lot of fun. Tossing a frisbee back and forth teaches sharing and can be easily played with up to three or four people. Frisbees can also be used for Frisbee golf where players try to hit various targets around the yard in the fewest number of throws.
Use small and large cardboard boxes to help your child make a playhouse, fort, or space ship. You can easily cut windows, doors and then use pens or paint to decorate the outside. Make the project outside on a nice day to avoid messes indoors.
Sidewalk chalk can make for hours of summer fun. The chalk can be used to draw hopscotch or four square lines on your driveway or patio. The kids can also just draw pictures. The pictures will last for a few days, until it rains, or can be easily washed off with a garden hose.
Deck of Cards
A deck or two of playing cards can be purchased very cheaply and opens up numerous games for kids. Kids can play Go Fish, War, Old Maid, Crazy Eights, Solitaire, and other simple games. Cards can also be used to build card houses or to do magic tricks. Check out a book of card games at the library and kids can entertain themselves for hours.
Feel free to post your favorite frugal toy ideas.
If your yard is built with a hill, give kids big pieces of cardboard cut from boxes. They can use them like sleds on the grassy hill. My brother and I had hours of fun when we were kids.
Also make hand puppets out of brown lunch bags or old socks. (10/13/2005)
By Jan in NC
I like the wood block idea. We did this, but also put on pictures of the kids' cousins, grandparents,and aunts and uncles using decoupage. They had a lot of fun with them. (10/13/2005)
When I was young we used to play a game called "Frozen Statues" although there are probably variations on the name. Basically it costs nothing, all you need is some music (radio) or someone could clap their hands. How it's played is: One person is "It" and they stand with their back to the other players. While the music is played the other players have to dance or jump around and as soon as it stops they must freeze in whatever position they're in. If they move they're out of the game. If they hold the position the person who is "It" goes to each player in turn and tries to make them laugh without touching them, either by making silly faces or sounds, etc. If the player giggles or moves they're out. The players mustn't close their eyes as that's kind of cheating! You could set a time limit for each player (say 30 seconds to 1 minute). Then "It" moves to each other player. When they've tried everyone, then you play more music and go again until one player is left standing, they're the winner. The players who are already out can help "It" to make the others giggle and lose. It's great fun and I've seen some weird antics and face-pulling.
This can be played at kid's parties too with a treat or prize for the winner. We going to play it at a kid's Halloween party we're organizing through work and we're going to change the name to "Zombie Stomp" and for music play "The Monster Mash" and "Thriller" etc. (10/18/2005)
You can't go wrong with a plain old ball. (10/23/2005)
When I was a kid, my Daddy was a bookkeeper/salesman for a furniture store. Since he was around there all the time he would occasionally bring home a cardboard refrigerator box.
Sometimes I would make a house out of it. Once I made a doll house with the help of my father. But I really enjoyed getting to finger paint on the cardboard. My Mama made finger paint from scratch, although I'm not sure of the recipe. Loads of fun from a simple old box. (01/30/2006)
The newer plastic Folgers Coffee cans are great for little ones to stack. They make walls for houses, forts, etc. For the smallest children you can put a smaller toy inside and they will entertain themselves with shaking it just to hear the noise that it makes. (01/30/2006)
I don't know if this is truly frugal or not but I buy lots of nice toys for my kids at garage sales. I even wrap up some for gifts. They don't know whether they were used or not and some I find are still new in package! (02/09/2006)
Dominoes - about one or two bucks at the store, and great for building, knocking over, and learning addition.
Mountain of cushions/blankets - or for forts; after vacuuming (we have a dog) our 4 and 1 year olds like to climb the cushions and hide/seek with the blankets. Great exercise for little one, and keeps him away from the stairs!
They love the cardboard box too!
Depending on weather and time, have a nature walk. We even did this in the city in the apartment courtyard with toads, or go down to the river bank. There are lots of places if you look. Most zoos and conservatories have free/reduced entrance for kids under 6. (02/10/2006)
Ha, just remembered, my oldest son's first set of blocks were the baby magic baby wipes containers! I bought those instead of refills for his first year....then I helped him build a "house" all around himself! That was fun, and they were reasonably priced (and the best wipes I ever used!) (03/25/2006)
Many of the containers you would normally trash are those frugal toys. Clean them up give them to a small child They will invent many fun uses.
Now for the rest of us Lids and bottle caps can be used in so many ways. I probably have mention many of them before. Here are 10 uses for those plastic soda bottle caps
GOOD LUCK TO YOU ALL
By Mr. Thrifty
I also used the refrigerator boxes for play houses for my kids and grandkids (still do when we get the chance). Another thing we used to do when I was a kid was take old sheets or blankets and use the clothesline in the back yard to make tents. All we did was use the clothes pins and we had some of the old straight kind for stakes, but I'm not sure if you can get them anymore. Make sure it's something you don't care about if it gets messed up though. We have even done this in the house when we have had a grandkids only night at our house in the winter. (06/13/2006)