10 Fun Toys and Games You Can Make at Home

by Xin Lu on 3 October 2012 2 comments
Photo: Leah Gregg

Now that I am the mother of a three-year-old boy, I have found that he always wants to be entertained, and constantly buying new toys is not an option. When I was a kid, I didn't have nearly as many toys as my son, but I remember that my parents and I played with a lot of homemade toys and games. Here are 10 do-it-yourself toys and games that will entertain your family for hours without denting the wallet. (See also: Great Financial Gifts for Children)

1. Cat's Cradle

This is probably the simplest "toy" you can make. Basically all you need is a few feet of yarn or string. Tie the ends to make a loop, and then you can start to make all kinds of patterns with your hands. The game is usually played with two people, and it is quite interesting to see all the variations. Check out some quick cat's cradle instructions.

2. Mancala

This is an ancient board game that can be made with an empty egg carton and some small counters like beads, beans, or even coins. The point of the game is to "capture" all the counters after putting them into the spaces in succession. You can see the basic rules of Mancala here.

3. Pinwheel

When I was young, my mom made pinwheels for me out of paper and little bits of wire. You can use any colored paper or even foil to make the actual pinwheel. You can find pinwheel instructions here. These toys are great for entertaining little ones.

4. Rattles and Shakers

These are also great baby toys that you can make on your own. You can use any kind of small container and just put in a few small beans, and it would be a cheap rattle. If you want to be fancier, you can paint and decorate the containers.

5. Play-Doh 

My son is absolutely in love with Play-Doh, but he always ends up mixing all the colors into one big brown pile and then asks for more. Apparently it is much cheaper to make your own dough at home. There are many recipes online, and most of them consist of flour, water, salt, cream of tartar, and food coloring. My favorite homemade Play-Doh recipe is dough colored by Kool-Aid.

6. Kites

A simple kite is actually very easy to make. All you need is some fabric or paper, a couple dowels, and a lot of string. I still remember that my dad made me a traditional Chinese kite out of very thin paper and bamboo strips and painted a tiger's face on it. There are many patterns for kites, but the most basic one is the classic diamond shape. PBS has a great set of instructions for making such a kite. You can get very creative with your kites and have the kids decorate them as they wish.

7. Jump Rope

It's very easy to make your own jump rope. All you need is some braided polyester rope and a way to make a pair of handles. Here is a good set of instructions for a simple jump rope. Jump ropes are fairly cheap to buy, but if you make it on your own, you can make it any length you want.

8. Jianzi

Jianzi is a toy that is very popular in China. When I was young we made these out of several washers attached to some chicken feathers. The game is basically like hacky sack, and kids kick them around without letting the jianzi fall to the ground.

9. Tangram

This is an ancient puzzle game made out of a square cut into seven pieces.You can print out a pattern, and then cut the shapes out of hard cardstock, plastic, or thin wood. There are an endless number of shapes you can make out of these pieces. There are many tangram puzzles online where a finished tangram is presented, and it's up to the player to figure out how to make that shape.

10. Masks

Kids love to pretend to be superheroes, and one of the art projects I remember the most from childhood is making paper mache masks. A great set of mask instructions is available here. After the mask is made, the kids can paint them however they want.

These are just some of the toys and games you can make at home with very cheap and readily available materials. The great thing about making these toys yourself is that the process of making them can be fun projects as well.

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Guest's picture

wow! thanks soooooooo much. its really helpful for parents

Guest's picture

These ideas are brilliant! I especially like the cats cradle one, I remember loving that at school! Will definitely be trying some of these out with my 2 year old and 4 year old!