5 Awesome Toys and Games for Toddlers That You Can Make Yourself

posted: 01/27/16
by: Blythe Copeland

Toddlers and preschoolers are at an age where even an empty cardboard box can offer endless hours of creative play -- which is why it's the perfect time to DIY your own toys, too. From sensory bins to quiet books, these handmade gifts are simple, inexpensive, and easy to customize to your child's likes and dislikes.

1. Sensory bins

Sensory bins aren't exactly neat or quiet -- and if you have kids who still put objects in their mouths, you'll need to supervise -- but they are easy to make and endlessly entertaining for kids (and even for adults). One of the most popular is dried rice dyed with food coloring; other ideas include bins of styrofoam packing peanuts, colored pasta, dried beans or lentils, and marbles. Store each in its own shoebox-sized plastic bin and pair with plastic measuring cups, empty yogurt or spice containers, and plastic kitchen utensils for hours of scooping, pouring, and learning.

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2. Quiet books

Quiet books are popular because they help kids develop fine motor skills, encourage learning, and are easy to take along on car rides, to restaurants, or anywhere your kids may need to stay occupied while waiting. Different pages teach different skills -- closing a zipper, pulling buttons through buttonholes, moving small figures from one spot to another, matching colors, identifying letters, and more. You can create your own using page suggestions from educational sites and bloggers; buy a pattern; or purchase a pre-made book.

3. Memory matching game

Put a personalized spin on the classic Memory matching game with a DIY version. The options are nearly endless: Use wooden discs with stickers, stamps, or felt shapes to help kids identify colors and shapes while improving their memory skills; make a game from photos of your kids with their friends and family; or empty your scrap fabric bin to make a set of squares in a variety of pretty patterns. You can also download a printable version that helps kids match shapes, colors, and emotions from And We Play, or focus on matching numbers with a homemade set that uses foam stickers and yardstick.

4. Popsicle stick puzzles

A bag of plain popsicle sticks from your craft store can become a set of customized, go-anywhere puzzles for your toddler or preschooler. Print out images that will grab your child's attention -- try family photos, illustrations from their favorite books, clip art of animals or shapes, or pictures of their favorite characters -- and use Mod Podge to attach the sticks to the back of the photo. Cover the top of the photo with another layer of Mod Podge and, when it's dry, use an x-acto knife to separate the sticks. (You can also cut the photo into popsicle stick-size strips and attach them individually.) Even easier: Print a set of rainbow popsicle stick puzzles from Sara in Shanghai and pair with a bag of colored sticks; then encourage your kids to mimic the patterns and shapes on the cards.

5. Latches board

Latches boards are popular for helping kids develop fine motor skills as they learn to manipulate hooks, hinges, knobs, deadbolts, and other small, moveable metal pieces -- but they can also be pricey. Making your own lets you customize the shape and color of the board, from a brightly colored initial to a plain, unfinished square, and also choose exactly the latches that you think your kids will like best -- and if you're handy with a drill or screwdriver, it's a simple project that won't take long to construct.