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Stop Buying Your Kids Toys: 14 Alternatives that will Boost Their Creativity

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Today, children literally can own hundreds of different toys and still complain about being bored. Here’s why you should Stop Buying Your Kids Toys: 14 Alternative that will Boost Their Creativity! 

Stop Buying Your Kids Toys

So what’s the problem?

Could it be possible that all these toys are teaching our children to be bored, instead of teaching them how to play?

Could this shiny plastic, noise making, battery eating devices be killing our children’s imagination, creativity, and reasoning skills?

Have you ever heard of Maria Montessori? If you haven’t, you should… so I’m gonna fill you in on the basics.

She basically changed the entire elementary education system back in the day (by back in the day I mean the early 1900’s).

Ms. Montessori was so influential that schools, both public and private, are still using some of her methods today.

Stop Buying Your Kids Toys

She believed in “practical play.” Kinda sounds like an oxymoron…

But really it makes sense. To kids, playing is their “work.” So we should equip them with the “toys” and tools for them to manipulate in order for them to learn the most from their play.

Here is a short list of things that children should be learning from their play:

  • Exploration
  • How to manipulation objects for different purposes
  • Order
  • Repetition
  • Abstraction
  • Communication
Stop Buying Your Kids Toys

There are private schools that are completely centered around Maria Montessori’s teaching methods. These schools are pricey!!!  I’m talking $5,600 a year for half day preschool and over $9,000 a year for elementary. But these schools are amazing!

Maria Montessori is one of the few educators and educating methods that is practiced and loved by everyone: public schools, private schools, and homeschooling families.

No matter what education system you’re using for your children, you can still implement these practices in your home and your children can reap the benefits…without paying thousands of dollars. In fact, you can do it for free!

When you walk down the toy aisle think about what the toys are teaching the children. I’m not trying to say that toys are necessarily teaching our children bad things. But are they helping our children with their creativity? Their imagination? Their reasoning skills? Or are these toys teaching our children to be unsatisfied with they have? Maybe less is more. 

stop by toys

An Alternative to Toys

Here is a list of things that could help inspire reasoning, creativity, and imagination:

  1. Lots of paper/notebooks and pens/pencils/crayons. Let them make lists, draw pictures, draw abstracts, discover what happens when two colors mix together.
  2. Art supplies
  3. Blocks
  4. Sticks. Seriously a stick can be anything: a gun, sword, spoon, telescope, cane, crutch, various food, dolls, etc.
  5. Blankets. Again the possibilities are endless: cape, tent, robe, wrapping paper, ghosts, etc.
  6. Scarves and scrap pieces of materials. Scarves and scraps of material are used as pretend bandages, headbands, eye patches, etc.
  7. Pillows. Let your kids play with old pillows. They are great for pillow fights, building a bridge across a lake of lava (obviously), walls of tents, putting dolls to bed, and so much more!
  8. Junk mail. Let the pretend like it is their mail. Let them fill out the information sections, play with the envelopes, pretend like they have important business to attend to. My kids especially love the credit card promotions that come with fake credit cards.
  9. A dirt/rock pile for digging, sorting, classifying, arranging.
  10. Empty containers to collect all their treasures.
  11. Musical instruments… you might want to also invest in some good ear protection for yourself. I am also referring to real instruments, not toys that make music.
  12. Cleaning supplies…safe cleaning supplies. Give your child a squirt bottle with 50/50 vinegar/water and a dry rag or dusting cloth. Let them help you clean or give them their own areas to take care of. Young children love cleaning and feeling helpful. If you give them the freedom to clean, they will clean things all on their own whenever they see a mess.
  13. Rope/string
  14. Cardboard and boxes. These things are easy to manipulate. And every parent knows, at Christmas, the kids love the box more than the toy!
Stop Buying Your Kids Toys

My children have so many toys they are overflowing out of our basement. But the things they love playing with the most are the things that I listed above. If we try to throw away a cardboard box or a piece of junk mail, you would have though we were selling their puppy! We don’t actually have a puppy… but I imagine it would be the same reaction. 

Stop Buying Your Kids Toys

I would also like to add that it is NOT a bad thing for children to be bored at times. Life cannot be entertaining and exhilarating all the time. No matter how hard we try, there will be times where they will be bored and hopefully they will learn to see the beauty and fun in the simplest of things. 

What would you add this list?


More great ideas:

Thanks for sharing!

{ 45 comments… add one }
  • Paola November 28, 2020, 10:33 am
    Have you ever wondered why the kids with the most toys still seem to need more? Have you noticed that right after receiving their birthday or Christmas toys, kids completely ignore them and start role playing, playing dress up, building forts, or pretend cooking (with empty yoghurt pots rather than with the toys you got them for their birthday or Christmas)? You have to start making memories and spend more quality time. The best idea is to play together in some board game, and the best board game of all time, also the most versatile is chess. If you're looking for the best family present try this book - Chess Puzzles for Kids by Maksim Aksanov (net-bossorg/chess-puzzles-for-kids-by-maksim-aksanov) - It uses a chess teaching method that has been perfected for over a decade, kids will LOVE learning chess through fun stories and exercises and it will be a great thing for your employees and their families!
  • Sharon January 15, 2018, 1:29 pm
    So many great alternatives. Do they really need all of those toys? Thanks Cheers Sharon... My Profile
  • Kristin May 1, 2015, 5:45 am
    Amazing list and a very interesting article, Anna! My Profile
  • Josh Mason September 24, 2014, 4:57 pm
    Art supplies *are* a toy AFAIC, and a good one too.
  • Farrah August 18, 2014, 2:27 pm
    YES! Love this list. I'm always looking for things around the house to help inspire imaginative play.
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy August 18, 2014, 3:17 pm
      Thank you! Let me know if you think of more things to add to the list!
  • Meeghan August 18, 2014, 7:49 am
    Thanks for these ideas! I am going to pin to my kids gift board. I try to stay away from toys and like a lot of these ideas! My Profile
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy August 18, 2014, 10:57 am
      Thanks for pinning!
  • Akaleistar August 16, 2014, 11:30 am
    Love these ideas! Creativity and imagination can turn anything into a toy. My Profile
  • Kirsten August 15, 2014, 1:46 pm
    These are such wonderful ideas. I have a child who collects rocks, sticks, you name it when we go on hikes so he could definitely create some of these toys. Thanks for sharing and happy SItS! My Profile
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy August 15, 2014, 3:11 pm
      Thank you!
  • Happysuz August 15, 2014, 9:14 am
    This is a constant struggle with my 7 year old. These are great ideas! I have most of these things on hand, but love the mail idea. I will have her make a mail box and start collecting. Happy SITS Day! My Profile
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy August 15, 2014, 11:22 am
      Thank you! Hope she enjoys it!
  • wooden toys May 12, 2014, 2:40 am
    It happens to be amazing just how resourceful kids might be whenever you take away the disruptions associated with gadgets! My personal a couple year aged really likes having fun with spoons, spatulas, cookware. Delighted an individual loved that!
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy May 12, 2014, 8:51 am
      My one year old is like that now. She gets bored with the toys she sees every day so we give her pots and pans and spoons and spatulas. Entertains her forever!
  • Crystal Graham May 7, 2014, 6:09 pm
    I think it is such a great thing that more people are letting their children be more creative, and less technology absorbed! I made the mistake of letting my older boys become sucked into this technology obsessed world, but my middle son would still pick playing outside with a stick over inside with a tablet or video game. But I have to take the tablets/video games away all the time. But after about 10 mins they are fine and find other things to do, they love to color and draw and read and all the stuff kids should love to do, but sometimes one of my boys just needs a push away from the video games. I think all parents should take away those horrible things once in a while, they make kids too angry!
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy May 7, 2014, 9:48 pm
      Crystal, I agree there definitely needs to be a balance. Technology can be such a good thing. I think kids needs to learn how navigate a computer and tablets because these are skills they will need for the real world. But there is also an overdose of media and no enough outside time. Glad you realize this. You sound like a great parent!
      • Crystal Graham May 7, 2014, 11:13 pm
        Thank you!! I really appreciate that, I needed to hear something like that on a night like tonight...lol
  • Gabriella L. April 28, 2014, 9:50 pm
    I am sitting here cracking up at this post! I love love love it! The timing couldn't be more perfect!! I have a few friends and relatives who buy these expensive talking toys for my daughter. What's hysterical to me is that she gets more excited and spends more time playing with an empty plastic water bottle, the case to my cellphone, a hair roller, a Gerber plastic container with connect four game chips inside, and a rattle that I made for her with uncooked rice inside of it. The shiny new toys are still shiny and new piled up in a corner. :-) My Profile
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 28, 2014, 10:54 pm
      It really is amazing how creative children can be when you take away the distractions of toys! My one year old loves playing with spoons, spatulas, pots and pans. Glad you enjoyed it!
  • Elizabeth April 26, 2014, 6:58 pm
    Thank you! What wonderful ideas. We are a little overwhelmed by toys (lots of grandparent love, etc) at our house, but I do find that paper, art supplies, and creative supplies are always needed and used! This was a great post. found you at SITS!! Happy weekend! My Profile
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 26, 2014, 9:33 pm
      Thank you Elizabeth! Have a great weekend!
  • Stephanie @ Photo Deal Junction April 26, 2014, 5:05 pm
    My kids love to play with ropes. The tie things together (4-year-old style) and make all sorts of inventions and forts. The do the same with scarves. They also love to "sew" with my fabric scraps. A recurring theme in their play is "being poor." I don't know where they get it, maybe because we read the boxcar children a while back. They go outside and make a fort and take some food outside and pretend they are surviving. It's pretty cute how resourceful they can be. My Profile
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 26, 2014, 5:25 pm
      The Boxcar Children is a great series!! I can't wait to read them with my children when they get a little older! Thanks for commenting!
  • Pam McCormick April 26, 2014, 3:33 pm
    Great ideas and reminder to let our kids use their imagination! Stopping by #sitssharefest :)
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 26, 2014, 4:02 pm
      Thanks for stopping by!!
  • Pam April 26, 2014, 4:36 am
    Macarla is totally wrong about Montessori being anti-creative and against imagination and creativity in childhood. There is no reason you can't use Montessori blocks to stack up as a fence, a dinosaur, etc. My son does it all the time. No philosophy is a one-size-fits-all approach. I have known children that have come out of Steiner functionally illiterate. Being a Steiner expert doesn't necessarily make you an expert in other philosophies. No need for a correction. http://www.montessori.org.au/montessori/preschool.htm
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 26, 2014, 8:23 am
      Thank you for the comment Pam. I had never heard that about Montessori either, but I plan on doing more research on both.
  • macarla April 25, 2014, 9:59 pm
    Maria Montessori principles actually discourage creativity and imagination, she viewed these traits as almost an illness in children. The toys at Montessori centres are called equipment and are not allowed to be played with in any way other than the specific function of the object, for example stacking blocks can only be stacked on top of each other, not used to make a castle, or a fence, etc. Steiner Waldorf on the other hand is exactly what you have described. Days spend disappearing into fantasy play and mimicking adult behavior. Natural materials and objects that are not "finished" so they can be anything you can imagine. And real life props, like the dustpans and brooms. If you like the Montessori centres that you have seen then you should check out Steiner centres, it's another world. The way childhood should be, dreamy and creative.
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 25, 2014, 10:17 pm
      Ah, thank you for the correction!
  • Holly April 25, 2014, 9:51 pm
    Great post and so true. It's the simple things that give the kids the most enjoyment. My 17 month old is the same. Give her toys and they will amuse her for a while but right now she's having a blast with a bag of pom poms and some different sized boxes. My Profile
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 25, 2014, 10:18 pm
      Holly, thanks for stopping by! That is such a fun age! Enjoy it!
  • Mab April 25, 2014, 8:44 pm
    I feel my daughter has the most productive play time with lots of the items that you just listed. I would add play-doh to the list for kids that are old enough (perhaps that falls under art supplies), and I LOVE seeing my little one sit down with just a few animal figures (an elephant, a giraffe, a dinosaur or two. All non-mechanical.) That's where I really see her imagination run wild. They become her patients, her friends, she re-enacts parts of our day together with Mommy, Daddy, and baby characters, and creates her own personalities for each animal. I think it happens far too often that kids get hung up on all the cool noises and lights their gadgets have instead of using their brains to do the cool things for their toys. It just goes to show that the most productive playtime comes battery-free!
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 25, 2014, 10:19 pm
      Yes play-doh is great! I would have considered that with art supplies. My children also love pretend their animals are anything and everything they can think of!
  • Karen @ a house full of sunshine April 25, 2014, 6:47 pm
    Great article - thanks! I totally agree that less is best when it comes to toys. Basic materials that inspire creativity are so much more stimulating for kids than the latest flashing beeping gadgets. Sharing! My Profile
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 25, 2014, 10:20 pm
      Thank you for commenting and sharing!
  • Camille April 25, 2014, 6:43 pm
    An empty room! When I push back the furniture or even right after we clean up, the kids LOVE it- just running around or putting out blankets to make it a beach, hot lava, etc. Great ideas.
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 25, 2014, 10:20 pm
      YES!! An empty room is great! But so often the emptiness becomes overcome with toys!! :(
  • Tammy @ theultimatelinky April 25, 2014, 2:27 pm
    My mom says she has never seen kids that have as much fun with paper as mine. My dad saves the paper that is garbage at work, but still has one side clean, and my kids go to town. The take the old boxes from food and make barbie furniture and a whole bunch of other stuff! My Profile
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 25, 2014, 2:34 pm
      That sounds like so much fun! I'm sure they are making great memories!
  • susie April 25, 2014, 5:48 am
    Great post. we recently removed all toys except trains, blocks and puzzles and of course my daughters (2.5) dolls and my son's (15 months) teddy's. Her behaviour has changed significantly for the better, a huge decrease in tantrums and they will both toddle off and play blocks or trains anywhere in the house and build cubbies with curtains in her room and so on, it's great!
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 25, 2014, 1:16 pm
      Susie, Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed this! I think trains are a great toy because there are so many different ways to set up the tracks, it's kind of like a puzzle in itself. Thanks for you comment :) --Anna
  • Leslie April 24, 2014, 8:58 pm
    This is spot-on in so many ways. Our kids are the fourth and fifth grandkids in the family…and they are completely inundated with toys…between toys that have been passed down, to all the Christmas/birthday/just-because-I’m-your-Grandparent toys I’ve had enough. One of my kids’ favorite things to play with is the empty paper towel tube. They’ll go singing along for a good half hour. And the baby loves to “sweep” (just be careful, because she might take you out with the handle!). Thanks for the great reminder! My Profile
    • Blessed Beyond Crazy April 24, 2014, 10:01 pm
      Ah, Yes the good ol' paper towel tube! So entertaining! I know exactly what you mean by being inundated with toys! Sweeping is also a great thing to teach your young ones and thank you for the warning! Thanks for stopping by!

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