There is nothing better than busy, creative, open ended play for child development or just for plain old happiness. The good news is, there are tons and tons of options for open ended toys. But… Have you looked at the prices on creative toys lately? For instance, wooden railroad engines based on certain popular shows could run you as much as $20, before you even buy any track or bridges or buildings or anything else fun. (And because they are “COLLECTIBLE,” used ones are as much or more than retail!) And Legos, that holy grail of building toys, are apparently crafted from the most expensive plastic on Earth, in addition to also being “collectible.”
If you’ve already spent your gift budget on one of these coveted toys, you may find yourself looking at an empty stocking and wishing you could fill it with something equally creative and fun, but on a much much MUCH smaller budget. Good news! You can, and it won’t even break your back. (And if you are lucky enough that your kid is not yet aware of these high ticket items, then save your $$$ and give them these instead!)
- Build a cardboard play kitchen like this one from 42 roads. Improvise, or order plans from her Etsy shop. When they have outgrown/destroyed it, you can recycle it! (My father built me a wooden one when I was little. While most of the wooden playthings we had are still around, the word is that years of hard play completely totalled that wooden play kitchen. The plastic one I got my boys at the thrift store doesn’t hold a candle to it. I still remember every detail. It was a gift for my fourth birthday.) This would go perfectly with the felt cookie play set we featured in our DIY Felt Board post! Or you could pair it with these felt salad and pizza play sets from Munchkin and Bean.
- You can make some modular fabric roads from scraps. Adapt Lil Mop Top’s idea using fleece, felt, or whatever you have on hand. It just needs scissors, a little craft paint, and some creativity. Make a drawstring bag to keep them in and add a couple of cars, and you’ve got a very clever take-along toy that is just perfect for busy toddlers at demanding holiday activities.
- A Super Hero Fort Kit from Meg + Andy would be perfect for active imaginations and can easily be created using second hand or freecycled items. Who WOULDN’T love to receive a super hero fort of their very own?
- Use up scrap fabrics to create a take along doll house, garage, or barn using this tutorial from Serving Pink Lemonade. A quick change in color or detail will make this little take-along building just right for any interest. Fill it with peg people or matchbox cars or toy animals. Scale it to size with the modular fabric roads you’ve also made and you can put them inside to create a complete play kit with endless play possibilities.
- Got older kids who are more of a “board game” type age? Woman’s Day offers you this travel checkers game to sew. You could make this even simpler by using craft paint (Or applique- just use pinking shears to cut the contrast squares out, use a little fusible web to put them in place, and sew a straight stitch grid to make the bond more durable.) to create the checkerboard instead of quilting it. You could also vary this by leaving one side open, instead of binding all four sides, and adding velcro and a carrying handle to the open end so the board doubles as a carrying bag for the checkers. Not into checkers? Add a couple of dice and adapt the idea to Parcheesi.
- If you’re digging the cardboard play set idea, you can also create a post office play set like the one we did here. No messy paint was involved… just a printed logo and a roll of blue painter’s tape. You could create a free printable letter from Santa as your little letter carrier’s first piece of mail!
This tunnel is made from a medium size Amazon box and a set of twinkle lights with a battery pack (no plug! You can buy one here, batteries aren’t included, it needs 3 D batteries). You’ll also need a hot glue gun (to glue the flaps down for extra stability- I cut apart the taped side as well as the one that was already open, and glued both sides back down. It’s pretty stable now) and a 3/16″ drill bit and driver. I drove holes in the four sides and poked the lights through, then drilled the holes in the top. I spaced them randomly and didn’t count until I’d gotten to within 20 lights of the end of the string. Assembly took 15-20 minutes.
I can’t wait to break out my sewing machine and my scrap stash and get started on a couple of these! Don’t forget to check out my DIYs board on Pinterest for more fun and budget friendly ideas!