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Cheap or Free Toys for Kids

Guest post by Charity Hawkins

If you’re wanting to save money by not shelling out dough for more camps and clinics this summer, but are wondering what on earth to do with your children these last few weeks, take heart. Here are some mom-tested “toys” to keep your kids busy and best of all, they require minimal intervention from you:

Duct Tape

If you have boys (maybe over age three or so), give them a roll of duct tape, send them out to the backyard, and go make yourself an iced coffee. So far this summer, my seven-year-old son has constructed intricate forts with sticks, duct tape balls (what?), and zip lines with stuffed animals duct-taped to hangers.

Duct tape is best complemented with a generous supply of…


Get some good string in the tools section of Walmart (or your garage). It’s unbelievable the things my children have come up with: reins, with my five-yea- old daughter being the horse (nothing tied around necks, of course), lassos, and a net “for catching robot bears.”

My son went through a phase when he wore some rope around daily, just slinging it over his shoulder when he got dressed in the morning, like he was a short and very serious cowboy. You never know when you might need some rope. (Granted, my children aren’t what you might refer to as … uh… normal. This morning my daughter dressed herself in ski pants, sweater, snow boots, hat, and mittens and sat on the porch in the one hundred degree heat waiting for friends to show up. She wanted “winter to hurry up and get here.” We tend to not be constrained by propriety in our family. Or reality.)


Get some sheets out of the closet and let your kids make a fort. This is a good rainy-day activity, but it’s also nice when the July heat sends everyone, wilted and whining, inside. My kids like to tuck a sheet in to the top bunk and let it hang down, but draping sheets over the dining room table is good, too.

Sidewalk Chalk

I know, your children have probably grown tired of drawing pictures on the driveway, but have you tried the bathtub? We have tiled bathtub walls and spend hours playing phonics games (shh, don’t tell the kids they’re learning), drawing pictures, or just scribbling.

The chalk wipes right off the tiles and then the kids enjoy wiping the tiles clean with a washcloth. Whenever I get around to cleaning the tub, perhaps next January, I will just scrub off the chalk ring on the tub with baking soda.


When school starts, we all get busy. Summer is the perfect time for lolling around on the couch reading. One excellent one to check out from your library is Roxaboxen, a short picture book about children who build an imaginary town with just the trash around them. It will give your children lots of imaginative ideas of “building their own Roxaboxen” in the backyard. They will probably use more of that string and duct tape to do so.


Okay, technically not a toy, but I believe that if your children don’t have time to be bored, they won’t have time to be creative. Children need time at home, lots of it, great gobs of it, to lie around in, and think of things to do. If anyone says “I’m bored” at our house, I say, “Great! I have lots of work you can do!” and they’re out the back door.

The best thing: these toys are good all year long and no batteries are required. Have fun!

Charity Hawkins is the author of The Homeschool Experiment, a hilarious and authentic novel about one mother’s first year of homeschooling – through dinner, diapers, meltdowns, and math lessons. The book is due to be released in 2011. (Charity Hawkins is a pen name that the author used for the book. The real author has a real husband and three real children and really does homeschool in Oklahoma.)

photo credit

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  • Lynda says:

    Good suggestions. : ) Whenever the girls have been “bored” I have suggested projects in addition to their regular chores around the house and yard they can do – “The weeds need to be pulled in the garden”, “You can wash the dishes”. It’s amazing how fast they find something else to do, LOL!

  • Tiffany Salvia says:

    I LOVED this! Beautifully written as well. Cracked me up when she said if she gets the bathtub clean, maybe next January. haha. Thanks for sharing this!

  • This is great! I just wrote a post today about frugal activities to do with your kids outdoors. I’m going to link to your post in my comments because I think it would compliment well!

  • Jennifer says:

    This made me laugh out loud! So funny and true to life 🙂 I was the oldest of a homeschool family of five children, and we were also not constrained by reality; what a fantastic way to grow up!!

  • marilyn says:

    I chuckled when I saw the duct tape. My older brother would have gone in a different direction with the tape. As the little sister I would have been taped to a tree!

  • What a great post! I love all the practical ideas. 🙂

  • Jessica says:


  • Becky says:

    Duct tape is also great for making roads around the house for match box cars or tightrope walking. Love all of the creative ideas! My kids rarely play with “real” toys, so it’s fun to see what they come up with.

  • Audra says:

    Wonderful article! You are bringing up your kids exactly the way I was brought up, and I plan on bringing my son up in this way.

  • Sarah :) says:

    oh good, someone else who doesn’t clean their bathtub…. O:)

  • Ashlee says:

    I loved playing with different strings, tapes and a HUGE roll of craft/art paper when I was younger.

    My son is far too young for these suggestions, but he LOVES stacking cups. I got several stacks on clearance at target for $0.49 a stack and he loves building and pretending with them.

  • Davonne says:

    I clicked over to her book site – I want that book!!! We are about to start our third year of homeschooling, and last year I had a toddler, a 4 yr old, and a 5 yr old. All girls. The oldest and youngest mine – the middle one a friend. Definitely chaotic! But I wouldn’t change it for the world 🙂

    • Davonne says:

      I tried leaving a comment on her site, and it’s really difficult with lots of steps to go through. I gave up. Charity Hawkins, if you’re reading this, please make it easier to post comments on your site!

      • Nicole says:

        I agree with you. Would love to leave a comment, but is just too many steps. 🙂

        • Charity says:

          I did read this and thanks for your feedback. I am using a standard Blogger site and that’s how they do the comments, but I will look into ways to make it easier. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • SillySimple says:

    This made me laugh, because growing up my little brother’s absolute favorite toy was a roll of duct tape and the BOX to his real toys (or whatever cardboard material he could find). He made wearable airplane wings, swords, helmets it is amazing what a 7 or 8 year old boy’s imagination can come up with.

  • claire says:

    Love the ideas. With 5 boys and a little princess they could use alot of activites like these. I am off to get some tape and string! Well, when it cools off that is! LOL

  • Brandy says:

    I love this post, it is so funny, yet true. My kids love to play with tape and string. However, they usually sneak it out of the office, without me knowing about it until I find it all over the house.

  • Amy B says:

    I love the duct tape ideas! Our favorite “sheet” activity when we were kids is to attach one end of the sheet to a box fan (I think we just stacked books on top of it), around the top and sides. Turn on the fan, and voila! The sheet blows out like a tunnel, and you have have a cool tent to hide out in!

  • Andrea Q says:

    Girls like duct tape, too.

  • Hysterical! Duct tape is ever-so-useful around the house. Whenever anyone claims to be bored around here, I point out the pile of laundry to be folded. Suddenly everyone is very busy…

  • Lisette says:

    What a great article! It’s written so well!

    I agree 100% about boredom being a great spark for creativity. Just turning off the tv is a great way to fuel that fire! As soon as I do, I find my girls digging out toys they haven’t seen in awhile, playing dress-up, changing doll clothes, riding their bikes in the basement, wanting to help with dinner, etc.

    A few weeks ago, when we got home for the afternoon, I made an earnest effort to see how long it would take before one of my children asked to turn on the TV. They never did! Try it!

  • Susan says:

    Great suggestions.

    I have a girl, not a boy, but she loves duct tape. They have lots of fun colors and patterns out there nowadays. Her favs are the colored zebra prints.

    However, maybe this was meant tongue-in-cheek and I’m reading too much into it, but I disagree that kids need “great gobs of time to lie around and be bored.” Maybe if you’re a SAHM, your kids are young, and you can keep close tabs on them, but there of plenty of kids with work-outside-the-home parents, and they are bored and unsupervised, which is a bad combination. That’s when kids get into trouble — when they have too much idle time. Especially as they get older. Not to say that they shouldn’t have *some* time to lay around and do nothing, but busy is good. And just because they are busy does not mean they are not learning, having fun, or being creative.

    • Andrea Q says:

      I assume the author meant kids don’t need to constantly have planned activities, classes and teams. All kids need time to just be at home and play. Over the years, I’ve known several families whose children were so over-scheduled that they had to beg their parents to let them stay home and relax sometimes.

    • AMotherWhoReadToMe says:

      I think she’s talking to mom’s like me that tend to think I have to contstantly entertain my child. She loves having a day at home to just play. Quietly. By herself. Without me trying to squeeze in a bunch of activities. And playdates. And crafts.

  • Nicole says:

    Love your sense of humor!!!

  • Wonderful, fun ideas…thanks for sharing with us MSM readers! 🙂

  • HokieKate says:

    Roxaboxen is the book I’ve been searching for! I remember the story and pictures from my childhood but couldn’t remember the title. Thank you so much!

  • emily says:

    Definately need to add baler twine to that list!!! Entertains my kids for hours and then I spend hours cutting it off of everything!

  • Amanda says:

    duck tape…interesting

  • Theresa says:

    Boxes! Contact appliance businesses or air conditioner installers, they always have lots of big boxes to make into tunnels, forts or houses.

  • Elizabeth N. says:

    I just had to comment to say how much I love that book Roxaboxen. It made me so happy to hear that someone else knows about that book. It is not as common as other children’s books.

  • hahaha…I loved this!!! Loved it loved it loved it. 🙂

  • Laura says:

    I love this post! Definitely a keeper.

    Have you read Not a Box? (I’m off to search for Roxaboxen.)

  • Lynn says:

    Love it! I’ll admit to rebellious thoughts this morning that included the desire to wear a sweater in insane heat 🙂

  • AMotherWhoReadToMe says:

    Great ideas! Can’t wait for the book to come out. I’m trying to decide if I want to homeschool my now 4 1/2 year old, and would love to hear about her experiences.

  • Kristine says:

    My girls love duct tape, yarn, fabric scraps, empty plastic containers, cardboard paper-towel rolls, etc. Simple pleasures. 🙂

  • Cathe says:

    Speaking as the retired homeschool mother of three adult sons and a few grandchildren, I totally and absolutely agree with this: “…if your children don’t have time to be bored, they won’t have time to be creative. Children need time at home, lots of it, great gobs of it, to lie around in, and think of things to do.” I used to believe in the “keep them busy to keep them out of trouble” theory, but it’s wrong. I wish I had learned that sooner.

  • Letty says:

    We LOVE Roxaboxen!! My older daughter found the book from her school library in 1st grade and would check it out so much we ended up buying our own copy!

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