Frugal Toys & Games

YARD SALES. People frequently sell Fisher Price, Playschool and other name brand toys for extremely low prices. These toys are practically indestructable so you may even end up getting your money back when you resell them in 10 years or so.

MAKE YOUR OWN. A large box (from a refrigerator, dryer, etc,) makes a great playhouse or fort. Cut windows and doors and draw details inside with permanent markers.

A tall, skinny box (like from a water heater) can be converted into a townhouse condo for Barbie. Glue in a couple of pieces of cardboard for floors, cut out some windows and cover the walls with wallpaper scraps (home decorating stores will frequently give you their expired sample books). Curtains can be made from fabric scraps or even paper towels and furniture from small boxes.

Another "cardboard box" project is a space station (or other headquarters-type place) for action figures. Use smaller boxes (sturdy ones like fruit cartons are good) and cover them with shiny foil or spacy looking wallpaper or contact paper. Elevators can be made with toilet paper tubes, tables and chairs with various size thread spools. My kids even went so far as to make "space money" out of tiny pieces of construction paper.

We recently received instructions for making a playhouse out of a potato bin from one of our visitors: The other day at a warehouse store, a box in the discard pile caught my eye...made of triple-layer corrugated cardboard, about 3 1/2 x 4 feet and 30 inches tall, it was a large potato bin sized to fit a standard shipping pallet. It was sturdy, empty, had a lid, and was in good condition. I hauled it home and started building my little girl an indoor cardboard playhouse. It's not difficult, she and her friends love it, and I can recommend it (to anybody who doesn’t mind a potato bin in the family room--but you can dress it up if you like with construction paper shingles, or such).

You'll need some sort of razor-knife to cut a door and a window or two.I made the door and windows with arched tops, which looks quite nice. Save the cut-out cardboard and make shutters for the windows. I used strong packing tape for the hinges, but the cardboard is thick enough to support hinges, especially if you use nuts and bolts to fasten them rather than screws. I attached spare curtain rings as door and window handles--poked holes in the cardboard with sharp scissors, and tied them on with twine. When you cut out the doors and shutters, you will need to shave off a bit of cardboard at an angle from their edges so they close properly. If you have the lid, it can help you make a nice roof and floor. Take the lid and cut out a large section of the flat part--leave the rim and about 2-3 inches of the top all the way around, so now you have a smaller flat octagonal piece and the original rim of the lid attached to a 2-3 inch remaining rim of the flat part of the lid. The flat piece you can wrap with blankets and/or old sheets to make a floor to drop in the bottom of the bin, and the remaining rim you use to fasten on the roof. I took an old sheet and a bamboo pole, used the pole to hold up the sheet draped over the bin, and put the rim of the lid over the sheet to hold it on. The loose ends of the sheet can be tucked in under the rim to hide them. Now the playhouse has a roof like a circus tent, and you can see better inside the playhouse because the sheet lets in the light.

You will need something to keep the roof-pole from falling over. You could simply use twine to tie it to the back side of the playhouse, or use something to prop it up inside. I had a surplus cable spool (two 1 foot diameter plywood rounds attached to each end of a cardboard cylinder), so I put weights inside it, put the pole thru the hole in the middle, and put it in the middle of the playhouse as a table--sort of like those patio tables with an umbrella stuck thru their centers.

To find a bin, talk to your favorite supermarket or warehouse store. The project took about 2-3 hours to carry out. If you want to get fancy, you can "shingle" the house with construction paper and a stapler, or use gift wrapping to cover the outside. You could even attach window boxes with fake flowers, a mail box, etc., but stop short of installing electric lighting or putting near any heat source...this IS cardboard, after all! My bin bears a bucolic scene of smiling people harvesting potatoes...reminiscent of those old Soviet happy workers in the collective fields propaganda posters...that I find wierdly amusing, so I left it alone. My kid and my cats all like to sleep inside, so I guess it is pretty cozy. Give it a try!

Here's yet another cardboard box idea sent by "Hiiquality":

If you are strapped for money and have children here is a great, inexpensive, hand-made gift idea! I made this for my daughter when she was going through her "movie star" phase...it's a Glamour Box(for girls):

You will need a large box, some thick ziploc bags, yarn, scissors, stapler, glitter, clear glue, thick clear tape, 1 med. size charm(heart, star, etc.) and a permanent marker.

First make sure your box is sturdy and in good condition. Tape the bottom so that it doesn't open. Flip the box over and cut three sides of the top (so that it opens like a chest). Decorate the box with the clear glue and glitter (I prefer to make shapes with glue and then decorate the shapes with glitter...you can make shapes that match the charm you are using.For example if you have a heart shaped charm make heart shapes on the box). Let dry overnight.

Open the top of your beautiful "chest" and staple three ziplock baggies side by side(make sure they are not stapled closed). Cut a piece of yarn so that you can use it as a "chain" to open and close the "chest". Make two holes in the box, one on the top and one on the front (make sure they are close together). Thread the yarn through the holes and thread one end of the yarn through the charm. Tie the yarn into a bow and write the child's name on the box with the permanent marker in fancy cursive writing. You now have a Glamour box! You can fill it with vintage clothes from thrift shops or penny sales. Fill the baggies with costume jewelry, make up, etc!

It's easy to make your own play dough. All you do is mix 1/4 cup salt, 1/2 cup flour and 1 teaspoon cream of tartar in a saucepan. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon cooking oil and some food coloring (optional). Cook it over medium heat, stirring constantly for 1-2 minutes until it's the consistency of "the real stuff". This is not only cheaper than buying the brand name product but is also more fun because you can make any color you want. To store it, wrap each color separately in plastic wrap or in ziploc bags. It keeps for a long time (no refrigeration needed!)

To make home made colored chalk mix 1 Cup Plaster of Paris and 1 Cup Water together. For colored chalk, add powdered tempera paint to achieve the color you want. Let stand for a few minutes and then pour into mold. (For a mold you can use small paper cups, toilet tissue rolls, candy molds, etc.). Set side and let dry completely. This can take anywhere from several hours to a few days depending on the size of the mold you chose. Once dry, remove the chalk from the mold. If it is still moist, let air dry for another 24 hours.

Scratch n sniff watercolors can be made by mixing 1 tablespoon of Koolaid (the kind with no sugar in it!) with 1 teaspoon of water. Use as you would regular watercolor paints. After the pictures dry you can scratch and sniff. (idea sent by Mary Kathryn who also sent lots of baby tips)

From Hunny Bunny Hell Spawn: I just visited your site yesterday and I wanted to share with you a couple of the kid craft recipies that I have been collecting. Thank you for yours.

Pearly Soda Clay

Mix soda, cornstarch and water. Now, I don't know about you, but I used to play with this mixture as a kid, because if you push on it hard it acts like a solid, but if you just sink your finger into it slowly, it's a liquid. Try it, but when your done, heat the mixture up in a sauce pan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it resembles mashed potatoes(about 7 to 10 minutes). You will need to stir it almost constantly the last few minutes as it thickens. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside. When the dough has cooled, turn it out onto a floured board. Knead the dough with your hands, adding more cornstarch as needed, to create a workable clay. For tinted clay, knead in a few drops of food coloring. Allow creations to air-dry overnight. Refrigerate any left over dough in a ziplock bag.

Lickety-split Lip Gloss

Combine the lard and honey in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together the drink mix and water until the powder is disolved. Stir the water mixture a drop or two at a time into the base mixture, until the gloss is colored and scented to your liking. Place in small containers. I have also been told that if lard is not to your liking, you can also use vegetable shortning, but then you have to refrigerate your lip gloss.

Glimmer Puff Paints

Mix together the salt, flour, and water; the mixture should be about the consistency of pudding. Add food coloring until the desired shade is reached, then use a funnel to transfer the paint to a squeeze bottle.(Tip: You can also transfer the paints to a ziplock bag, then snip off one tiny corner of the bag for a make-it-yourself applicator.)Use on finger-paint paper or other heavy paper and allow your paintings to air-dry over night. Store leftover paints in the refrigerator in airtight containers for up to 3 days; stir or shake before using.

Color-me-clean Tub Paints

Combine the soap and cornstarch in a small bowl. Divide the mixture into separate containers(a ice cube tray works great!)then add food coloring 1 drop at a time. (Caution: test the paints on a small area of your tub or wall first to make sure they won't leave a stain;darker hues may be more stubborn to wash off.) Apply to tub and body with fingers or paintbrushes. Use bathroom cleanser to clean the tub if any color remains. Keep any leftover paints in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Silly Putty

This stuff will bounce and pick up pictures from newspaper, just like the real thing.

Mix it well. Add food coloring if you wish. Let it dry for about an hour. When ready, it will be smooth and rubber like. Store in an airtight container.

GAK Recipe

Pour the glue and food coloring into a plastic container. Stir until color is thoroughly mixed in. Add starch a little at a time, stirring with a spoon or kneading with your fingers as mixture thickens. Keep stirring until mixture holds together like putty. Test with your fingers; if too sticky, add more starch in small amounts until the mixture is smooth and rubbery.

Snow globes

If you would like you can paint the outside of your jar lid with the oil based paint. After your lid dries, sand the inside of your lid to make the surface rough, then glue your figurines in place and let the glue dry over night. Fill your jar almost to the top with distilled water. Add glitter and a dash of glycerin to keep the glitter from falling to fast, but be careful not to add to much, because then the glitter will stick to the jar when its turned. Screw the lid on tightly, careful to not disturb your figurine. Turn jar over and let it snow!!

One of the best things about these "make your own" projects is that the making is just as much fun as playing with the finished product!

BUY THE CLASSICS. If you're going to go to the toy store and buy new stuff or if the aunts and uncles or grandparents want to know what to get the kids for Christmas or birthdays it's best to get tried and true "classic" toys. These would be things like wooden blocks, snap together bricks (like Legos), Monopoly, large boxes of crayons, etc. If you remember playing with it as a kid and it's still around you can be pretty sure it's a good one!

Linda sent this great find... "While shopping at Target I checked out their after Easter sale. I purchased some broken up chocolate easter bunnies for 9 cents a package (to use in cookies) and I also bought 4 plastic Easter pails (fairly large size) for 9 cents each. For 9 cents a piece they are great sand buckets. I just stacked them in the garage with our outside toys."

We received a letter from Ann in North Carolina asking about cheap mixes for her daughters' Easy Bake Oven. Anybody who has one of these knows that the tiny mixes are outrageously expensive and what fun is the oven if you can't bake in it? I solved the problem when my daughter was little by buying the Jiffy brand mixes which only require the addition of water. Just scoop out the same amount as in one of the tiny mixes, add water and bake. You can also give your kids a tiny bit of batter from your bowl when you are baking a big cake. I now have a granddaughter with an easy bake oven and we found that Betty Crocker makes some mixes that only need to have water added. They come in pouches and have varieties that kids like...chocolate chip muffins for example.