How many times has your child played with a box more than the toy that came inside it? It’s a common cliché that rings true for so many parents. A cardboard box is unassuming, adaptable and readily available. Little wonder then that this “non-toy” was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.
And it's not the only favourite free "toy" kids love. For hours of free exploration, imagination and fun, click through this gallery for 10 more fun items you can find around your home or outside — guaranteed to promote creativity. No batteries required.
We all know kids just love getting wet! From infants to big kids, frolicking in water stimulates the senses and inspires inventive play.
Pour water in a shallow container and let your child enjoy it freely. Or take ice out of the freezer and watch it melt on a tray — so exciting for toddlers! (In the winter, use snow instead of ice.) If you prefer to keep your house dry, send the kids outside, turn on the hose, and watch creativity blossom.
Rocks make great toys because they're so versatile. Big boulders can be mountains, giant turtles or sleeping dinosaurs. Tiny stones can be beetles or jewels. Medium-sized rocks can be used individually as animals and cars, or stacked together to form houses, people or fences. Kids can even organize pebbles on the sand to write messages on the beach. Set out some stones, glue, paint, googly eyes and other fun materials, and there’s no end to what your child can create.Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater
Most commonly enjoyed as swords or canes, sticks can be used in many other ways, as well. Pair sticks with stones for a DIY game of golf. Drag a stick in some dirt and it becomes a writing instrument. Tie some string around it, and voilà — a fishing rod! Sticks also perform flawlessly as magic wands, of course. They can transform into snakes or other creatures, or become a talking twig (the child who holds it gets to speak). Another fun game for little ones? Simply lay a stick on the ground and jump, jump, jump!Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater
You might not consider toilet paper a plaything, but your kids sure do. Toilet paper can morph into a train, rollercoaster or even a sea of fish. Let it fly around the room as your child conducts an imaginary orchestra.
And, of course, encourage your kids to get crafty with it. Just add water, and toilet paper becomes a terrific modeling material that dries up hard as a rock.
Yes, it may be messy, but there’s usually a good reason kids are constantly unrolling the stuff.
Young or old, a "story hat" is a must-have. Got a kid who wants to hear an impromptu story? Slip a hat (any hat) on your head for immediate inspiration. Story hat can be used at bedtime, during long car rides and on rainy days. Anyone who wears it will instantly become an extraordinary storyteller. Guaranteed. Thinking cap sold separately.Photo: FreeImages.com/Niall Crotty
This mild-mannered recyclable tube is best known as a spyglass, but it's also unbeatable as a tunnel. Put seeds in it, tape it up, and the cardboard tube becomes a rain stick. Tie several together for a raft, or add glitter to make a rocket. Kids can also use a it as a painting tool or percussion instrument. And if someone decides to try it as a weapon, nobody gets hurt.Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater
If there’s one thing that unites us parents, it’s our odd sock collections. Glue googly eyes on an odd sock and it becomes a puppet, or use it as a sack for carrying little items, such as stones or marbles. Pull an odd sock over a cardboard tube and you’ve got a place for storing special notes. Tape it to a pair of pants for an instant tail, or dunk it in the bathtub to make a slithery water snake.Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater
Baskets have a knack for transforming ordinary, every-day objects into extraordinary items. Think of how much fun kids have with their baskets during egg hunts. Why not continue the fun year-round with rock or pinecone quests? Children can hide and find things of varying sizes, and use a basket as a mode of transport. Baskets also perform well as beds for spoons, containers for treasures and, of course, super fancy hats.Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater
Pillowcases have many uses beyond sack racing and candy carrying. Tie a rope to a pillowcase for a homemade kite. Tie it onto a stick to make a fancy flag. Watch as your children gather several pillowcases and drape them over the living room furniture (with a bed sheet) to make a colourful tent. And if your child is feeling adventurous, safely tie a pillowcase around her neck and watch her fly around in her brand new cape.Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater
Dirt has always been popular with kids — and for good reason. The learning curve on dirt is small. You can dig in it, pile it up, lie in it, fill things up with it and hide things under it. And, if you’re lucky enough to have a lot of dirt, you can climb it. Best of all, when you add water to dirt, you end up with mud. Beyond the creative benefits of making mud pies, there are many who say that kids who eat dirt are actually healthier than those who don’t. So encourage your children to get dirty. They’ll thank you for it.Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater