All parents whose children have pushed an expensive toy aside to play with the box it came in know that little ones often enjoy simple toys the most. Many playthings can be easily made at home using inexpensive and even recycled materials. We’ve rounded up eight DIY toys that even the least crafty parent can create. Paint flat rocks in rainbow colors to make a stacking toy, create play cake slices with sponges and glitter, and make your own sensory board.
1. Chalkboard wood blocks
This cityscape was created from just one 2 x 4 piece of lumber. The author of the Hello Bee blog had the wood cut into various shapes, and then sanded and painted the blocks with chalkboard paint. Kids can draw their own details on the blocks, and then erase and draw new ones each day.
2. DIY sensory board
Take a trip to the hardware store for MDF and a variety of household items for babies to manipulate, and you will have all of the ingredients for a sensory board. Babies and toddlers will love feeling the carpet swatch, turning a light switch on and off, and looking in a mirror. This board was hung on a wall at the perfect height for a sitting baby — get more details from Fun at Home With Kids.
3. Felt vegetable garden
Check out these adorable felt vegetables from Lia Griffith. The planter box is filled with “dirt” made of brown felt bolsters, in between which the veggies can be “planted.” Next, make the colorful felt veggies with the free downloadable patterns to complete your child’s colorful garden.
4. Play sponge cake
Once the kids have played with their vegetables, it’s time for cake! Perfect for playing bakery or tea party, these layered cakes are made with felt, glitter, pom-poms and colorful sponges. The Craft Train blog even offers free templates.
5. Fishing toy
You’ll need only basic sewing skills to make these fabric fish with a magnet inside each. The Tidbits blog will show you how to create this toy, even walking you through how to make the wooden reel. This toy will amuse kids for hours!
6. Tactile tugging toy
Any empty lidded canister will work to create this fun toy project from The Imagination Tree. Babies and toddlers will enjoy pulling the ribbons back and forth through the slots. Using ribbons in a variety of textures makes this toy a tactile experience.
7. Cardboard beads for threading
Oversized beads and pipe cleaners make a great threading activity for little hands. Create cardboard beads from cut-up paper towel or toilet paper tubes, as detailed on The Imagination Tree. Decorate the beads with paint, duct tape and patterned paper, or turn the kids loose with markers or stickers.
8. DIY portable dino play mat
Amy, the author of the Five Kinds of Happy blog, came up with this great portable toy idea. She used a sewing machine to make the mat, but you can make this project “no sew” by using fabric glue or fusible webbing. Your kids can add their own dino toys and other items from nature to the playscape.
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Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated for 2023.