Let’s face it, kids are always busy, always going and ALWAYS looking for new things to get into. It’s so easy to fall into the “buying-trap” of getting the newest shiny toy to keep them entertained. But the truth is, everything is exciting and new for toddlers, and younger kids love to repeat fun things. All you really need is to look around your house. I’ll put the disclaimer here that I am talking about normal households, not the super-crafty-Pinterest-Heaven households (seriously, who has 50 clothes pins on hand at all times?!) but the My-Kid-Is-Driving-Me-Crazy-What’s-Right-HERE-To-Entertain-Them households. I added a few items that, if you happen to plan ahead, they are brilliant. But mostly this list is choc full of things that are in arms reach to help keep your sanity and entertain the littles! First…CARDBOARD!
People have truly and sadly forgotten the awesomeness of cardboard. It’s everywhere, comes in unlimited sizes and shapes, stupid cheap or free, and can always be recycled when you are finished. And all kids LOVE. IT. Here are the very beginning levels of cardboard awesomeness.
1. Crayons and box
It’s as simple as giving your kid an empty box and a box of crayons. The box can be a smaller one to color all over and inside, or one they can fit into and just go to town. The beauty of the box and crayons is they can color to their heart’s content, and they stay in one place. If you find a smaller box, you can throw the crayons into it afterwards and it can become their “craft box.” So all the random paper cutouts, stickers, stamps, pipe cleaners, highlighters, pens, markers, and string finally have a home too.
2. Box tunnels
There are three ways you can accomplish this one. The simplest is open a box like you’re going to collapse it and lay it on it’s side near a wall so it doesn’t lay flat. You can also cut two large pieces out of the top of the box with the open flaps and keeping the other side taped up. You need to make sure the box is large enough to fit a crawling kid and still have about 4 inches about the tunnel so it lasts longer than a of couple hours. Cutting the box is a stronger structure and doesn’t require a wall.
The third way is taking a string of different size boxes, cutting out pieces on either side of the open flaps and duct taping a line together. I love this one because you can get creative with the angles and “caves”. There is truly no wrong way for this. As a bonus, you can either hand each little a flashlight to find their way through the maze, or put Christmas lights in the ceiling by cutting holes in the top with a screwdriver (by stabbing the top of the box to make the holes just big enough for the lights to fit through). Be forewarned… This will make the kid in you uber jealous that you no longer fit in a cardboard box.
3. Tube Raceway
Wrapping paper tubes. They are amazing. Cut one in half length-wise and put one end on the couch, one on a pillow. Your little will delight in watching the cars go down the ramps at different speeds and will adjust the heights to see if the cars go faster or slower. (Bonus – you are helping them understand cause and effect!)
4. Gravity Box
This is much like the Tube Raceway, but you keep the tube intact. Instead, cut different size holes and put different objects in the tube. The smaller items will fall out at different spots than the larger items and it will help the littles understand sizes. If you have a long square box, you can cut the holes at different areas. Sometimes the items will fall out, sometimes not. Use everything! Matchbox cars, golf balls, legos, measuring spoons, baby spoons, wadded up paper towels, and crayons. It doesn’t matter what you put down the slide, they think it’s all amazing!
5. Box Car
This can be as elaborate or simple as you want it to be. Google “cardboard box car” and you come up with an overwhelming array of detailed and elaborate box cars. But let’s be real. By the time you are done mimicking the perfect cardboard replica of Lightning McQueen, your kiddo has already gotten into (and eaten most of) your makeup. No. Get a box, draw some black wheels on the side, put a pipe cleaner through a paper plate and the front of the box and say “VROOOOOOOM!” Bam. Box Car. Let your kids imagine it’s real. If you do that, then it IS real.
6. Box Sensory
“What’s in the boooox?!” Ok. The quote from Se7en is creepy, but that’s really what the question is. This can be a shoe box with a hole in the top, a coffee can with a hole in the lid, a purse, and gift bag…the container is not the point. Then put random stuff in it. Toddlers love pulling things out of containers (obviously, right?) and putting things back in. You can put toys, five or six wash cloths, a pack of straws, golf balls, baking tools, tissue paper, even pads. As weird as it sounds, dollar store menstrual pads are like Christmas to toddlers. They pull these things out of a package, then they can unwrap the plastic, and there’s so much texture. Think about it…
7. Box Slide
This is great for both tiny kids and big kids. You simply cut open a box flat. If it’s for littles, you stack pillows against the couch and lay the box on the couch cushion. I usually tuck a piece behind the cushion to keep it from shifting. Bam. Slide. For bigger kids duct tape a few flat boxes together and then use strong masking tape at the top of the stairs. If the box isn’t thick one, you can roll towels up on each stair to give the box lift so it doesn’t collapse between stairs. Put a few pillows at the bottom of the stairs for easier landing, and they will slide for hours! Or at least long enough to actually drink your coffee.
If you have tiny kiddos, you can fold up the edges of the box to make rails for them to hold onto if you want to make a stair slide for them too. You may also want to just do one long box because a full stair length slide might be a bit too scary for them.
8. Cardboard Tube
Paper towel, toilet paper, wrapping paper…they will FIND something to do with it. Tape two toilet paper tubes together to make binoculars, give them two paper towel tubes to use to bang on things, or give them a wrapping paper tube to “row a boat” (you know, the card board box boat/car/plane/ship you made earlier). Wrapping paper tubes are great for swords, because boys will use sticks and rods and legos and any manner of things to make swords regardless of how sheltered they are from violence, it’s like it’s in their DNA. The cardboard tubes are safer, which is all we moms really want.
You can put wax paper and a rubber band around one end, fill it with random things, then add wax paper and a rubber band around the other side. Put it up to the window and you have a kaleidoscope.
Put wax paper and a rubber band around one end. Stick toothpicks straight through the tube and fill it with beans or rice then wax paper and a rubber band around the other side. Make sure you tape a thin kitchen towel around the tube so the toothpicks aren’t pokey. Rain noise maker.
The list goes on and on for tubes.
9. Box Wall Dropper
This is so brilliant. And simple. Use masking tape to tape a tube to the wall about a foot off the ground. Put a coffee can under it. Show them how to drop a golf ball down the tube. They will do it over and over and over. If you have multiple widths, you can put a few up on the wall so they can figure out spacial awareness. Get larger and smaller items to fit into different tubes. Plastic easter eggs work great for the larger tubes, so do hackey sacks.
10. The BIG Box
You know the ones. The ones that even as an adult, you see the giant oven box from the recently unpacked inventory at the hardware store and your heart gives a little leap. Next time, take it home. They can help you fold it or collapse it so it will fit in your tiny Ford Focus trunk. The possibilities are endless…tower, house, cabin, fort, castle, space ship, pirate ship, kitchen, doctor’s office, vet hospital, Hogwarts. Add in the address stickers you’ll never actually use from the most recent junk mail, some markers, crayons, a couple windows and a door, and you’ll have something your kids will actually cry about when it falls apart. Until you bring home the new one.
So there you go. Totally doable, right? Which of these ideas will your little one(s) be trying out first?