Make toys with and for your kids instead of buying toys

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

cup&ball_game1-1In order to present your child with a toy they will be excited about, you do not necessarily need to rush to a toy store and spend hours wandering between the shelves and a great deal of money. It is quite easy to make wonderful toys at home from available materials. Even better still if you and your child make those toys together.

Make toys with and for your kids instead of buying toys for them. There are toys, simple and not so simple ones, that you can make together and there are also the ones that you may have to or wish to make – on your own – for them.

Slingshot (catapult): While in some people's mind this might be rather controversial I will still mention it. I have yet to come across a child, especially a boy, who would not relish having one of those beanflippers and, as long as he is taught not to do the wrong things with it, a catapult (slingshot) is a fine toy and gift. It is also one of those that you and the child can make together.

Wooden blocks: Offcuts from carpenter workshops and such can be made, with little work, into a set of wooden (building) blocks for children to play with. No need to spend money buying those things at often great cost. It is also possible from such offcuts to make “Lincoln Logs”, for instance. Such toys will give years of happiness in play and construction as they are ageless – in more than one way – and the play is only limited by imagination.

Wooden cars, etc.: Can also be – with some skills – quite easily made from such wood offcuts and can be very simple or quite elaborate. The skill level here has to be somewhat higher than for wooden blocks and it may also require a little more in the way of tools.

Tip cat: Very simple to make and will give hours and hours of fun (and exercise). Mostly intended for use outdoors. Pakistan this toy and game is called Gulli-Danda (elsewhere it goes under different names but is the same) and there it is played a little like cricket with teams. Very easy to make and lots of fun. Tipcat can also be played alone and is still great fun.

When we were children a carved tipcat was always in the pocket to play the game as, generally, a suitable stick was always to be be found and, as we always carried a pocketknife, cut to size. However, a special one could be made and used instead.

Stick gun: “Oh, what is he on about now?”, I can now hear some readers ask. Which child has not, wandering in a park of wood, picked up a stick that resembled a gun in some way and played with it? Most will, I am sure. This, though, is a deliberately chosen piece of wood (stick) and fashioned to create a stick gun he will keep to play with and may even cherish. They can now be found on sale – yes, you wouldn't believe it – at stores such as Habitat at around $15 each for a “pistol”. Yes, the world has apparently gone stupid.

Bullroarer: The bullroarer, rhombus, or turndun, is an ancient ritual musical instrument and a device historically used for communicating over great distances. It dates to the Paleolithic period, being found in Ukraine dating from 18,000 BC.

In ancient Greece it was a sacred instrument used in the Dionysian Mysteries and is still used in rituals worldwide.

Along with the didgeridoo, it was a prominent musical technology among the Australian Aborigines, used in ceremonies across the continent.

A bullroarer consists of a (weighted) airfoil (a rectangular thin slat of wood about 15 cm (6 in) to 60 cm (24 in) long and about 1.25 cm (0.5 in) to 5 cm (2 in) wide) attached to a long cord. Typically, the wood slat is trimmed down to a sharp edge around the edges, and serrations along the length of the wooden slat may or may not be used, depending on the cultural traditions of the region in question.

The cord is given a slight initial twist, and the roarer is then swung in a large circle in a horizontal plane, or in a smaller circle in a vertical plane. The aerodynamics of the roarer will keep it spinning about its axis even after the initial twist has unwound. The cord winds fully first in one direction and then the other, alternating.

Having said all that it is easy to make, does not have to be that large, and can be a fun toy for a child of (almost) any age. Scrap wood from woodworking projects or from a wood yard, often free at some places, would do nicely.

Tic Tac Toe: This game that, when played on paper often referred to as Naughts and Crosses, can, with a mat or board, made from waste materials, such as bottle caps of two different colors and, once again, cost nothing.

Whirligig: This is a very old and simple children's toy that have been around for the gods only know how long. Probably made with a wooden disc in the very distant past it was later made with a (large) button.

You can make it in ten minutes, but your children will be playing with it for hours. Used to be made from a large button, as said, and could very well be done from, say, a plastic milk jug lid.

Cup & ball toy: Here is one of those where you can make use of those ubiquitous single use cups, or it can also be made from other stuff, such as the plastic cup lids of liquid detergent bottles (as in the the case of the “model” in the picture).

There are a great many different toys and kinds of toys that you can make for and with your child, often even and especially from waste materials. The only limit is the imagination. You have to still have a child-like imagination often to see the potential of this or that in order to turn it into a toy, or several different things into the one toy. Toy cars and other toys from empty plastic bottles, those from the stronger plastic and not the PET, come to mind, for instance.

The children in many places in Africa, Asia and South America make amazing toys from waste materials and this could also be something done by us and our children.

We all know that all too often an expensive toy is being played with for a short time and then ends up in the toy box never, or rarely, to see again the light of day.

Another thing, and I am sure that someone can come up with a reuse solution, is using the bottle caps of various sizes and colors, with which to make things, as in toys (and also other things). Clip It ( is fine and good but the clips, in my opinion, are rather expensive and I am sure that parents and children, together, might come up with their own solutions.

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