20 Thrifty Toys for a 20-Month-Old

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Disclaimer:  We do not let Gv play with these toys unattended and I am not making any claims about the safety of these ideas.  Use your best judgement when searching your own house for cheap baby playthings. 

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time ‐ we're constantly re‐purposing things around the house to use as toys and it's been seven months since I last shared these types of thrifty ideas.  I actually have more than 20 toy ideas at the moment, but I'm saving the extras for the next thrifty toy installment ‐ because gosh, each month Gv keeps getting older and that means coming up with even more toy ideas than the previous time!  

And I can't believe she's twice as old as when I wrote the first thrifty toys post!

There is also at least one object that has been reincarnated since that first post ‐ can you figure out which one it is?

So, here are twenty of Gv's current favorite time‐occupiers, most of which were completely FREE:

Popsicle Sticks

I have a slew of these left over from my classroom (woo‐hoo free!) and I continue to come up with new ideas for ways to use them all the time.  I'm sure I'll eventually create an entire post of ideas focusing on these indispensable wooden sticks, but until then, here are three:

The perfect rhyme for this activity?  "1, 2, Buckle My Shoe," of course!

Grab a container, hand your child some Popsicle sticks, and then sit back and watch.  Seriously, you wouldn't think they would be that exciting, but Gv manages to come up with new things to do with them just about every day.  (Her latest game?  Placing a stick along the top of each book in the bookshelf next to the box)  

Two other ideas, that are geared a bit more towards the pre‐school crowd, are:

Alphabet Sticks
Puzzle Sticks

Paper Clips 

I posted this photo on Facebook one day and poor Grammy got all concerned (bless her heart), but Gv was not at all interested in anything dangerous (like putting them in her mouth) and I was right there actively watching her the entire time (she's literally sitting right in front of me, on my desk).  

Obviously if your toddler wants to gnaw on them ‐ or you're thinking of handing over a box of clips while you work on dinner, then this would not be an appropriate activity for your child to engage in at the moment...

In and out, in and out of the container!

Poker Chips 

This gal's already a whiz with the poker chips, and doesn't shuffle her cards, or pull her hair, or flick her teeth, either.  (Can you guess the movie reference?  It's a fun one.)

To be honest, I will probably come up with a whole post about these little plastic discs someday, but at the moment, this is Gv's favorite way to play with them.  Their ridged edges are so interesting for little fingers to explore, and the colorful circles make the most wonderful sound when rubbed together...

These chips are loads of fun all by themselves, but if you grab an old wipes container, they become even more exciting ‐ they make such a satisfying plinking sound when dropped through the hole!

Popcorn Box 

This was a fun find at the local dollar store and even though it made a great Halloween costume, it made an even better toy afterwards:

$1 for a Halloween costume and hours of fun crawling through it afterwards?  Yes, please!

Large Straw/Exercise Ball Tube

Grammy always travels with water in plastic cups that have these great giant straws in them.  Did you know that giant straws make an awesome musical instrument?  

Did you also know that those big exercise balls sometimes come with even longer and larger straws to inflate them with?

Oh, the symphonies she can create with this thing...and just look at those cheeks all puffed out, doing all that work!


Now, I know these math manipulative cubes are not exactly something everyone has just laying around the house, but we've got a box full of them over here.  Someday we'll use them for their intended purpose, but at the moment they are great fun to pop and un‐pop over and over and over...

My prediction is that Gv will next discover how to build all sorts of things out of these cubes, since that's all my former students ever wanted to do with them when they were supposed to be working on their math...

Colander & Pipe Cleaners 

I'd seen this idea somewhere before (Pinterest, I'm sure), but I didn't like how long the pipe cleaners usually were and also wanted Gv to work on more precise fine motor skills when she used them.  So, I took one pipe cleaner of each color (rainbow colors, of course) and cut them into fourths.  We had this extra colander in the kitchen, but you can also find them at the dollar store.  

There are holes of different sizes around the edges and Gv always likes choosing how to arrange the colorful fuzzy sticks when she plays with this toy each day.  Sometimes she'll group them all together, sometimes she'll scatter them all around, and sometimes she's just not interested in poking them into the holes at all, but will flip the colander over and fill the bowl of it with the pipe cleaners, instead.

Whenever she puts them back even slightly out of "order," I have to go back and re
‐create the rainbow.  I know, I have issues...


G and I both had Swiffers when we got married, but we didn't ever use either one of them since we had my favorite cleaning tool ever.  

Why didn't we get rid of the silly things, then?  Who knows, but all you have to do is take out one or two of the handle sections and it makes a fabulous toy.  You don't have to cover the bottom with a fancy Swiffer cloth, either.  A paper towel or even a washcloth works just as well.

An extra bonus with this toy is that your child will be cleaning your floors for you and be none the wiser!

Distracted during her Swiffer session...

Broom From the $ Store

Gv had so much fun with the Swiffer, we decided to be all Montessori and get her a little broom, too.

But why pay some ridiculous amount of money for a kid‐size broom, when you can just grab one at the dollar store, saw off its end, and replace the plastic tip to create a smaller version yourself?

She's still totally distracted by something.  I blame G.  Those puzzle pieces and cards aren't going to sweep up themselves, Missy!

Dice in Cheese Shaker 

I had these large dice in my boxes of classroom stuff and thought they might be fun for Gv to play with.  I stuck them in this big cheese shaker and Gv spends a ton of time both shaking it for the noise and also shaking out the dice from the pour spout, only to plunk them back in again.

I don't know that I'd trust regular dice yet at this age, but they could certainly be used if you weren't worried about your child choking on them.


This toy came about on our summer camping trip. You should always carry a whistle for safety when you go out hiking and Gv discovered it was great fun to blow on one back at camp while we were preparing dinner (which I'm sure our campground neighbors really appreciated...)

Her cousins (who also camped in those same mountains, just a week after we returned) took a fun duck‐boat tour at Stone Mountain on their way back home.  Each family member received a duck whistle to take home and so of course they shared one with Gv.

This is the duck whistle, not the regular whistle.  I was too lazy to go out to the garage to retrieve the regular whistle from the camping supplies box.  Plus, I'm pretty sure you know what a regular whistle looks like, anyway!
  Whistles are fun to blow and also provide great speaking skills practice for a toddler learning to blow into one.

Toot!  Toot!


Try to gather scarves made out of different materials.  Sheer scarves are fun to look through, while thicker, knit scarves make for lots of dress‐up fun.

Gv can have a good old time just wrapping a scarf around her neck
‐ working on creating a more trendy style, I guess.
Sheer scarves are especially fun to play with
‐ we have three in the primary colors, which means we'll be able to use them for color wheel discussions in the future.

And please, be smart with the whole scarf thing.  Don't let your child play with one if you're not pretty much staring at him or her the entire time!


Speaking of dressing up, Gv loves to open up her drawers and work on putting on her shirts, shoes, socks, pants and shorts all by herself.  This really develops her fine motor skills and gives her lots of practice getting dressed independently.

She also loves to open up my drawers and pull out my ‐ ahem drawers.  She can busy herself for the longest time, trying to see how many pairs of my underwear she can slip over her neck.

You might not be up for this exploration if you have fancy underthings, but that's definitely not the case around here, so she can just play away!

This shot's a bit blurry because there's this whole dance that goes along with the process...it's really quite entertaining.

Old Cell Phone  

Gv has had this toy for the longest time ‐ way before that first toy post I wrote ‐ but I just kept forgetting to share it.  Despite the fact that we only use our phones on speaker (no radiation near our brains!), she will talk for the longest time with the phone plastered to her ear.  

She mainly calls Daddy and it's so fun to listen to her "conversations" as she tells him all about her day...

This girl has so much to say!  Oh, and we took the battery out of the phone, too.  No need to have her carrying that hazardous product around!

Regular Corded Phone 

Along that same train of thought, a regular old corded phone is pretty darn fun, too.  The buttons are more exciting to push and it's easier to hold the phone on your ear with your shoulder and then of course there's all that cord‐twirling you can do...

She's got more to share with Daddy about what's happening around here today!


A bucket is like a cardboard box.  There's no limit to the number of activities your child will come up with using it for.  Hand your toddler a bucket and something anything ‐ to put in it and the minutes will fly by as the container is filled up and emptied.  

Fill it up and empty it.  Fill it up and empty it. Fill it up.  And empty it. 

Plus, it makes a pretty cool hat, too:

Greens Box for Card Monster 

We have about fifty bajillion of these plastic boxes (that our organic greens come in) around the house (I should write a post on all the ways we use them), so I was excited to come up with a new way to put them into action. 

Back when G taught Theory of Knowledge for an IB program, he'd use this "Card Monster" game to expand the critical thinking skills of his students.

I totally stole the idea and used it with my gifted second graders, and will definitely play the same game with Gv when she gets a bit older.  Until then, we're coming up with a new version of Card Monster and just "feeding" the box with cards.

This is another one of those toys that will take up a ton of time ‐ Gv will usually fill the whole box up (One. Card. At. A. Time.), then crack open the lid, dump out the innards, and repeat the whole process once or twice.

To make this, I just stabbed a pair of scissors through the box label on top, then cut out a narrow slot to feed the cards through.  I peeled off the label to get a white writing surface, then drew on the monster eyes and mouth with marker.  Mmmmm...a ten of clubs!  Nom nom nom nom

A Deck of Cards

You'll want some of these for the above mentioned Card Monster game, but you'll also find that a deck of cards can be loads of fun all by itself.  Gv and I will pass the cards back and forth using our mouths (which develops those facial muscles for better speech skills) and she also loves to just rifle through the stack or even to just put them in a pile, one at a time.

I used to use regular old decks of cards for math centers in my classroom
‐ which is what we use for the Card Monster box, but I also have these cute writing prompt picture cards that we'll play with, just by themselves.


Gloves are probably not an exciting toy for kids living in any other state besides ours, but for a girl living in Florida, they can be quite exotic.

Luckily, I have approximately 6,436 pairs of magical stretchy gloves from coaching ice skating, so that means I can easily spare one or two for Gv to play with.

These little buggers can be quite challenging to put on, so this becomes another great time‐filling activity that's really quiet for your little one to work on.

Unless your child happens to grunt loudly in frustration when two fingers go into the same hole...

Success!  Now to run around the backyard wildly flapping her purple jazz hands everywhere...

Felt Lacer

I'll be honest.  This toy probably gets played with the least out off all 20 that I've mentioned in this post.  

While not difficult to make, this toy also took the most time to create.  Occasionally Gv will pull it out and mess with it for a while, but I think she'd just rather practice lacing or buttoning on real clothes.  Or maybe she just needs to grow into this one...

I just took an old shoelace, knotted one end, then cut slits through random scraps of felt and showed Gv how to feed the lace through them.

So there you have it, 20 new thrifty toys for your toddler.  We'll see how long it takes before I get the next post up for another round of up‐cycled treasures.

Did you figure out which item went through a makeover to become  a new 2.0 version?  Which idea is your favorite?  I'd love to hear!  Leave a comment here, or email me at lisahealy (at) outlook (dot) com. 

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