As my son’s first birthday approached, well-meaning relatives kept asking me what was on his wish-list. Honestly? He was happiest playing with Tupperware pulled from the kitchen cupboards. (Lid on, lid off. Maybe put a single Goldfish cracker inside the Tupperware. Or a smaller Tupperware container inside a larger one. Mind. Blown.) His second favourite activity was to totter around the house in circles, looping from the kitchen to the living room and back again, grinning and clutching a random tube of hand lotion like it was his most prized possession.
Babies, man. So ridiculous and weird, and yet so cute.
If you have kids, you already know that babies and toddlers find wallets, car keys, sunglasses, smart phones and even a plain old plastic water bottle endlessly more fun and fascinating than the fanciest flashing toys money can buy. (The classic example is that babies will play with the box and the wrapping paper longer than they’ll engage with the actual gift inside.) So save money and reduce waste by repurposing stuff you already have in your recycling bins or junk drawer into a beloved baby toy.
1. Break out the tissues
How many times have you stopped your baby from gleefully pulling every single tissue from the Kleenex box? Save an empty box from the recycling bin and stuff it with old, lightweight scarves or hankies. You could also try using some of those maddeningly mismatched, orphaned baby and toddler socks. (This could also work with an empty wipes box.) Let your baby go to town, without wasting tissues.
2. Getting canned
Take an old oatmeal canister or formula can, and clean it out. If you’re feeling crafty, wrap the cylinder in brightly coloured paper (glue or tape it to the can). Let your baby or toddler practice taking the plastic lids on and off (fine motor skills!), or rolling the cans around the floor. If you have three or four cans, your little one can practice stacking them into a tower or pyramid shape. You can also cut a rectangular hole or slit in the plastic lid of the can, and then show your older baby or toddler how to drop individual cards from a deck of cards into the slot. Endless entertainment! (Shout-out to Busy Toddler for the inspiration.)
3. Grasping at straws
I was once able to prep and cook a whole dinner while my baby sat on the kitchen floor, attempting to put a single plastic straw back into the tiny round hole in my empty iced coffee cup (which he’d yanked, gleefully, out of the stroller cup holder). This “activity” would work with any non-breakable water tumbler or drink cup designed with a hole for a straw. Or just save the iced coffee cup and straw from your last Starbucks run.
4. Pushing your buttons
It’s a known fact that babies and toddlers love remotes. So give your old discarded remotes a quick clean with a disinfecting wipe, remove the batteries and battery panel, and let your kiddo play away. Keep a basket of old, useless remotes to swap out for the real one when your baby’s getting grabby. (Sidenote: Never let your baby play with the Apple TV remote—they’re way too easy to lose!)
5. Bottled up
Plenty of babies are perfectly content with an empty plastic water bottle they can squeeze and squish and crinkle. Just make sure the cap is tightly secured with duct tape, or remove it entirely and throw it out (the cap is a choking hazard). You could also take it up a notch by filling the empty water bottle with small, noisy items to make a shaker toy (uncooked pasta, rice or dried beans). If your baby’s more into shiny things, stuff gift-wrap ribbons or bows into the empty water bottle. (If you have older kids, you could try these shaker maracas. But be vigilant about these smaller items around babies.)
6. House of cards
Have you ever caught your baby or toddler trying to steal—and pull apart—your wallet? It’s a great time-buyer, in a pinch. But if your little one is mobile, you can end up with a misplaced credit card. (Pro tip: check all shoes and furnace grates, haha!) Instead, dedicate an old wallet for playtime. Remove all coins (they’re choking hazards) and stuff it with expired loyalty cards and used gift cards—the shinier the better.
7. Ice, ice baby
Admittedly, this activity is better-suited for warmer days than the winter months, but it’s super-easy and affordable: put some ice cubes in a mixing bowl, hand your baby a wooden spoon, and let him swirl the cubes around as they melt. (You might want to lay a towel or bathmat down on the kitchen floor.) You can also do this on a highchair tray, which—major bonus—keeps your baby busy and contained.