Some people think that wholesome playtime for kids is akin to buying organic–that in order to really “get the really good stuff” and provide your child with the best in playtime nutrients, it’s going to cost you. On the contrary, there are many clever ways to keep your child’s mind and body active that use materials you may already have around the house (and if you don’t, can easily get at a 99-cent store)!
I recently asked Bobbi Conner, author of Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun. to share a handful of fun ways to play on the cheap. She recommends going with what you already have (since you’re likely sitting on a treasure trove of toys for your young ones): Do you have a laundry basket? Muffin tin? Paper bag? How about a box of pasta? Always keep safety in mind, and let the playtime begin:
#1. One Giant Floor Drawing
You will need: large sheets of drawing paper (or butcher block paper), invisible tape, and crayons. To do: Cover your kitchen floor with big sheets of paper. Use invisible tape to hold the paper in place. Challenge your child to use crayons to draw a HUGE drawing or create a “village”—with roads, houses, a river and trees. When the village is drawn—add a few toy cars to drive through the town!
#2. Lunch Bag Puppet Show
You will need: paper lunch bags, nontoxic markers, scrap paper, scissors, and glue. To do: For young preschoolers, parents can cut circles (for eyes) and any other desired facial features or accessories (noses, ears, hats, and so on). Glue or draw the parts of the puppet on the bag and then show your children how to manipulate the puppet by placing your hand inside the bag to make the puppet head move and “talk.” They can tell a story with their puppets, sing a song, or put on a puppet show.
#3. Kitchen Table Fort
You will need: several flat sheets, and some toys and props for pretend play. To do: Drape the sheets over the kitchen table or a series of chairs and let the kids haul their toys and books and pillows inside the homemade lair for hours of pretend play. The game could involve a “camp-out” (maybe a parent can make s’mores in the kitchen!) or a pretend library or school.
#4. Macaroni Mix-Up
You will need: assorted uncooked pasta shapes like ziti, elbows, bow-tie; a muffin tin; and a paper lunch bag. To do: Pour ¼-cup of each pasta shape into the lunch bag and mix it up. Challenge your child to sit at the kitchen table and sort the pasta—all the elbows in one compartment of the muffin tin, all the ziti in another, bow-ties in a third, and so on. Preschoolers love to sort! Advanced version: Use tri-color pasta to practice color sorting.
#5. Coupons as Currency
You will need: an old wallet, coupons from the Sunday paper, an empty laundry basket, and canned or boxed foods from your kitchen or pantry. To do: Parents cut out the coupons and stuff them inside the wallet. Give your child a shopping cart (a.k.a. laundry basket) and line up the foods on the table or a low counter so he or she can pretend to be a shopper at the grocery store and “buy” groceries with coupons.
*And don’t forget, your local library is filled with lots of free entertainment that won’t cost a dime! So whether you’re a parent or babysitter, bring on the next rainy day.
For more than 700 more play ideas for indoors and out, check out Bobbi Conner’s Unplugged Play!