If you have a growing family, the cost of the latest toys can quickly put you in the poor house. Kids are bombarded with cartoons which all have tie in product empires. From toys to sticker books and backpacks it is hard to avoid the commercial hype of the big children's brands. If it more stuff is not in the family budget, it can be hard to tell your little girl she can't have that Thomas the Tank Engine railroad set or more dolls but it is possible to reduce toy costs.
Fortunately there are many ways to reduce the cost of toys without sacrificing the richness of your child's play experience. By involving your children in making and selecting toys they will value the toys more and move away from demanding so much Chinese plastic.
Make Your Own Toys
Going back to the way your grandparents handled toys before a million Chinese factories started pumping out plastic thingies can be a great improvement in your child's life. Just like your grandparents did, make toys out of household items and help the environment. The internet is filled with tutorials.
For example, instead of buying a $50 puppet that will be forgotten in the back of the closet, spend some quality making a set of puppets from old socks. Instructions can be found on YouTube.
Use scrap wood to make building blocks. You can cut them up - or gather them up for free at the local building supply yard and your kids can help sand the blocks smooth and paint them with non-toxic paints.
Glue a photo or a calendar page to a cardboard cereal box and cut it into puzzle pieces. The puzzles will cost next to nothing and you can create a few at once so your child has different puzzles to play with. This works best for younger children who don't need a 1000 piece puzzles. When over 50 pieces or so cutting up cardboard can get old pretty quickly.
Teach your child to sew doll clothes from fabric scraps, and if you forgot what you learned in home economics, learn together with your child. Fabric scraps can be had for very cheap at thrift stores or fabric stores since all you really need are rags to make doll sized clothing. You child will value something they helped make (even if the help was just choosing the colors) than doll clothing bought from Mattel.
Engage your kids with craft projects using common things around the house, glue and crayons. This is a great way to recycle newspaper, junk mail, cardboard boxes and foam from electronics boxes. Check out craft ideas on YouTube or sites like Infobarrel.
Collecting coins is another way to teach children while keeping them entertained. Try a coin zoo to start.
Shop at Thrift Stores
Thrift and second-hand stores are a fantastic source of quality toys, puzzles and children's books for far less than retail. We've bought whole bags of toys for $1 or $2. You can often buy children's items so cheap that you can afford to just drop of other toys at the thrift store as you pick up new ones, constantly rotating the selection of toys your children enjoy.
Thrift stores are also great sources for dress up clothing if you don't want your kids rummaging through your own closet.
Exchange toys with friends and family. Do not trade her favorite teddy bear, but exchanging toys that no longer hold interest for your kids frees up space in the toy chest and enriches play time at no cost. When you set up the trades, allow the kids some time to socialize and play together. Encouraging them to share their toys and even decide on the trades will make the whole toy trading experience much smoother.
While you are cleaning up, consider donating toys that your child has outgrown to local a playschool, library or charity thrift store.
Instead of buying children's videos, turn to the internet for your child's video entertainment needs. This is not only free but it eliminates a lot of clutter.
Create Play Environments
Cool play environments like tents, tree houses, sand boxes, and forts will make your home and backyard the envy of the neighborhood kids. These kind of play environments encourage physical exercise and do not require lots of plastic toys to deliver hours of fun to your kids.
It is not costly to build a sandbox in the back corner of the yard. Check Craigslist for scrape wood and look around for some spikes to put it together. Grab buckets of sand from the beach to fill your sandbox. Don't forget to make a cover to keep out lawn clippings, leaves and most importantly cats.
Tents can be found at yard sales for cheap, or dig out the tent you never use for camping now that you have little ones. Kids will enjoy "camping" out and filling their tents with treasure. In the winter, bed sheets and tables make for good indoor tents.
If your yard does not support a traditional treehouse due to lack of big trees, maybe you can still create a low platform and ladder. In an apartment, arrange bunk beds to create a fort like environment.
When You Buy, Focus On Creation Toys
Toys that allow your child to use their imagination like Lego, Playfoam, and craft supplies are better for learning and growth than toys with a fixed function that do not allow flexibility. Toys that allow modeling, including sand, foam, clay and Lego bricks allow your children to create their own toys and models temporarily or permanently. Sometimes you can even make the playdough together using a home recipe, though Playfoam is a cleaner option.
Lego is a perennial favorite, bit look for the basic blocks rather than all the new fangled little specialty pieces that are only good for building one vehicle. To contain the spread of Lego add boards to create rims around a card table and then have your kids restrict the blocks to that table.
When getting toys for your kids to enjoy, there is no reason to spend a fortune. Just be creative about how you make toys, buy from thrift stores and trade with other parents, and create awesome play environments for your kids that can fill with toys that stimulate creativity. Play on!