Better Than Barbie: 5 Free Toys Kids Will Love

By Craig Ford on 12 December 2012 (Updated 4 June 2014) 4 comments
Photo: andrewmalone

I have three kids, and they'll often abandon an expensive toy for something else that we have in the home. Instead of trying to fight their natural curiosity, it's time to go ahead and embrace the fact that kids LOVE around-the-house items as much as they enjoy expensive gifts. (See also: 5 Cool DIY Christmas Gifts for the Under 6 Crowd)

1. A Huge Cardboard Box

Moms and dads are sort of strange because we buy our kids gifts so they'll have fun, and then we get upset when the kids decide to write or color all over the new toy. We'll say, "Haven't I told you not to write with markers on your toys?" Now the problem is solved. Give them a gift that they can write and color all over.  Don't be a parent who stops all the fun by telling them not to write and color on something. Encourage it.

I think that's why our kids love it when we give them a big cardboard box and let them write all over it with crayons, markers, pencils, and pens. They've made castles, forts, and sleds out of old cardboard boxes.

Best gift ever.

2. A Big Bag of Bubble Wrap

For a kid, there's nothing sweeter than the "pop" sound that bubble wrap makes when you pinch it, step on it, or squeeze it.

We old geezers think the gift is the item wrapped in the bubble wrap, but kids know better.

A trip to a department store could yield a whole box of bubble wrap.  If they don't have bubble wrap, they may be able to spot you a box of Styrofoam shells. It will make a huge mess, but the kids will smile all day long.

3. A Bag Full of Anything That Can Be Cut

The other day we opened up a piece of furniture, and it had thin, paper-like Styrofoam padding. We gave each of the kids a pair of scissors and let them set up home base in the kitchen. Before we knew it, our kitchen turned into a crafts room.  

In fact, when it was bed time, the kids protested because they wanted to keep cutting. We eventually came to a verbal contractual agreement whereby mom and dad would leave the supplies scattered across the kitchen floor and the kids could pick up their playing in the morning.

4. Empty Margarine Containers

Yes, I know. If we really loved our kids, we'd give them butter instead. The only problem with butter is you don't get the cool containers.

When we went to Hawaii for a week in September, guess what we packed for beach toys? Yup, margarine containers (empty and washed).

When it's time for the kids to have a bath, do you want to know what they fight over? Yes, empty margarine containers.

They are also great for building towers.

Go on, I dare you. Give them empty margarine containers for Christmas. I will if you will. They might like them more than grandma and grandpa's $100 gift.

5. Empty Christmas Wrapping Paper Rolls

With the wrapping paper roll in hand, your kids can be transported to a time long ago. A time when knights fought for valor and for the hand of the fair princess.

Be forewarned, your kids will probably figure out how to hurt each other with the empty rolls.

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Guest's picture
Olivia

Absolutely true. Our youngest, once he mastered scissors, was a mad thing for thin cardboard and masking tape. He made these crazy cool things out of them. After opening boxes for his first Christmas, our oldest played with the boxes, not the gifts his grandparents and aunts had given him.

Another great toy is a dress up box, even our boys loved homemade capes and various hats.

Guest's picture
lostAnnfound

Our 19 year-old daughter was so happy to play with the bubble-wrap that I used in her college care package! I think that one may go beyond childhood.

Guest's picture

Yah kids love these thing especially when they must work on their gift before opening them.

Guest's picture
Z. R.

Uummm.... plastic bubble wrap as a free gift for kids? Being frugal doesn't mean relinquishing common sense safety. Maybe finding a bubble wrap popping sound on the Internet (Google "bubble wrap games online") isn't as fun as the actual thing, but it's a whole lot safer.