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When I was a little tyke, I made my own magic set from construction paper, cardboard, and glue.
I was so proud of my efforts. And I loved the delighted look on people’s faces when I showed them my stuff.
Making toys is a whole lot more satisfying than buying them. And, toys made by hand have more potential for imaginative play than toys you buy in a store.
The next time you need a toy for a child, consider making it yourself. All of these toys are easy and inexpensive to make.
Wooden toys are great if you have the tools and a passion for wood-crafted playthings. There’s so much you can make from wood, including rocking horses, board games, and even spaceships.
Wooden toys are beloved for their classic look, their ability to last a long time, and their power to fire up young imaginations. In the era before the advent of electronic gadgets, these were all favorites of kids everywhere.
With the backlash against these kinds of devices and how they stifle creativity, wooden toys are making a bit of a resurgence.
The projects in this section might fill you with nostalgia for days gone by. That’s true even if you’re too young to remember the time when children everywhere played with things like them.
Wooden Balance Board
Summer is almost here. This is the time traditionally when kids flocked outdoors en masse to frolic in the fresh air.
But alas, kids aren’t going out to play as much as they used to, because of the ubiquity of electronic gadgets.
Try to lure them away from their device with this cool balance board.
A balance board improves balance and coordination, as well as strength in the core, knees, and ankles. The health benefits come because you work your muscles trying to maintain a stationary pose.
And, it helps hikers to get used to rocky trails, so they’ll be less likely to fall.
Woodworkers often find themselves with a lot of scrap wood they have to use up. This DIY balance board is the perfect project to make the most of all that scrap wood you’ve got lying around.
- 2 2″ X 4″ X 10″ boards (rockers)
- 1 2″ X 3″ X 13″ (rocker support)
- 1 ¾ X 13″ X 19″ plywood (rocker top)
- 2″ wood screws
- 3″ wood screws
- Wood glue
- Using a jigsaw, cut two arched rocker shapes.
- Predrill two countersunk holes in a vertical line in the middle of each piece.
- Attach the rocker support to the two rockers through the center holes with screws.
- Apply glue to the top and glue the two rockers to it.
- Flip over and attach top using two countersunk screws.
- Sand well and paint any way you’d like.
In this era of smartphones with top-notch cameras built right in, a retro camera might perplex many youngsters.
Others may see their parents using theirs all the time.
If children grow up watching a parent take pictures with a real camera, there’s a good chance they’ll want to be a photographer themselves. This camera you can make yourself will whet your child’s appetite for taking photos until she’s old enough to get a real one.
You can either paint it or keep it natural. This’ll undoubtedly outlast those cheap plastic toys!
- Dremel Moto-Saw
- Scrap wood (for the camera body)
- ½” wood spool
- Wood pot lid
- 2 ¾” flat wood wheel
- ¾” flat wood wheel
- Old belt
- Sketch out a design for the camera using a pencil on a piece of scrap wood.
- Cut out the design using the saw. Go slow around the corners.
- Sand the rough edges.
- In the upper left-hand corner (when looking at the back of the camera), drill four holes to mark the location of the viewfinder.
- Paint the camera body. Then, paint the camera pieces.
- Glue the wood jar lid to the center of the front, and then glue the 2 ¾” flat wood wheel to the middle of the wood jar lid. This is the lens.
- Glue the ¾” wood wheel to the right side of the camera. This is the viewfinder.
- Spray with a coat of varnish.
- Cut belt for straps and attach to the camera body with screws.
Chalkboard City Blocks
Wooden building blocks are always a big hit with toddlers.
They’re so simple in appearance. In your child’s playroom, they’re probably the humblest of all the toys. And, they provide hours of imaginative play without making much noise.
These blocks add a new wrinkle on the old kindergarten standby because you’re going to paint these blocks with chalkboard paint. Chalkboard paint gives a surface a chalkboard appearance.
Write on it just like a real blackboard. And erase it, just like a real blackboard.
With these blocks, kids get to decorate their own buildings, and then, build the city of their dreams.
- One length of 2 X 4 lumber
- Chalkboard paint
- Foam roller
- Paint tray
- Cut the wood into different sizes and shapes. Sometimes stores like Lowe’s will cut the wood for free after you buy it there.
- After you cut the blocks, you might have to do some light sanding to smooth out rough spots. Then, simply apply your chalkboard paint using the foam roller.
- Let dry overnight.
Toys from Nature
Do your little ones love to forage around in nature to collect rocks, branches, moss, and the like?
Then turn these free gifts from Mother Nature into DIY toys! They’re fun to make and beautiful to look at.
They’re also eco-friendly because, with these projects, Mother Nature gives you most of your materials. That cuts down on what you have to buy, most of which won’t be eco-friendly.
This is a tree house for fairy dolls. It consists of wooden platforms supported by branches found in your yard.
- 5″ thick X 1/4 “wide wood scrap wood
- Sharp knife
- Wood glue
- Wood filler
- Sketch out a plan for your fairy treehouse.
- Insert branches into the vise and use the handsaw to cut them to the required height.
- Cut wood for the platforms. The platforms can have any shape you want. Be creative! Drill a hole in one, so you can have a branch poking through.
- Sand the edges of the platform pieces until they’re smooth.
- Begin the assembly. First, attach the base platform. Predrill a hole in the platform for a screw. Then, drill a hole in the branch. Dab the bottom of the branch with some wood glue. Attach it with the screw to the platform.
- Do the same with all the platforms, so you have layers of them supported by branches. It should look like a sprawling treehouse. Make sure you drive the screws deep into the wood, so the heads of the screws are beneath the surface of the wood. After assembly, mask the screws with wood filler.
- Make stairs by cutting a branch into disks and then gluing them together. Put that on one layer of your fairy treehouse.
- To make a rope ladder, cut a couple of thin branches into equal parts to make rungs. Ten should be enough. Then with a sharp knife, cut notches at the end of the rungs.
- Cut two long sections of twine. Wrap the string around all the notches in the rung, so all your rungs are connected. Make a loop at the top of both pieces of twine. Attach them with wood pegs to the top of a platform.
- Make a swing by making notches in a small branch section (this is the seat of your swing). Tie some twine around the grooves. Then, glue a small twig to a branch supporting one of the platforms. Tie the top of the string to the twig.
- Use rocks and moss from nature to decorate.
Forget the boring old Xs and Os. It’s time to reinvigorate this tired old game with colorful bumblebee and ladybug markers!
This whimsical tic-tac-toe game set is a twist on the classic game. It’s perfect for an impromptu match at home, or when you’re camping.
It’s also a unique gift for birthdays and Christmas particularly suited for any ladybug lover on your list.
Enjoy classic tic-tac-toe, updated with fresh new pieces.
- Rounded rocks (for the markers)
- Red, black, and yellow paint
- Tree cross section (for the board)
- Start by painting bumblebee and ladybug designs on each of the stones. Start with the bumblebees. Paint yellow stripes around ¾ of a stone. The number of lines you need depends on the width of your stripes and the size of the rock. Apply two coats, and then paint in black stripes between the yellow lines. Paint the rest of the stone black for the head.
- For the ladybugs, paint about ¾ of the stone red. Paint the rest of the stone black for the head. Apply two coats, and then add black dots on top of the red color.
- Paint or use a wood burner to add lines to your game board.
Next time you go for a nature walk, gather some twigs to make this adorable nature-crafted boat. Your kids will be so eager to find a puddle or pond so they can race their friends!
Or, they can experiment by adding nuts, berries, or small pebbles to see if their boat will still float.
Besides twigs, you’ll need glue. And a piece of fabric for the sail. That’s about it!
This is a fun and easy project, and it’s so simple your kids can help build it.
- Straight twigs
- Fabric (for the sail)
- Cut 10 twigs to be about the same length. The length can be whatever you want for your boat.
- Glue all the twigs together to form your boat.
- Now, reinforce the boat with two twigs glued at either end. These twigs should be perpendicular to the other twigs.
- For the mast, glue a twig upright in the middle of the boat.
- Once the glue dries, add a piece of fabric for the sail.
Would you like to give your child a play set that evokes the excitement of playing out in nature on a warm summer day?
If so, make these blocks made from branches and bark of trees, and bring a little bit of the outdoors indoors. They’re rustic and natural-looking. And because these blocks are crafted from forest materials, they’ll spark your child’s imagination like no other!
Your kids can use them for hours of immersive play. They can imagine that they’re in the middle of an enchanted forest, surrounded by wilderness creatures who can magically talk.
Your child can build rustic-looking towers, treehouses, and other structures with them. They’re a great alternative to plastic blocks. And better for the environment, too.
Because they’re constructed from forest materials, the look and feel of these blocks are so appealing for children and adults alike. And, they’re so ridiculously easy to make, you could whip them up in a single afternoon.
You can buy a version of these on Etsy. But, they’re so simple to create, why bother?
Next time you’re out on a stroll, keep your eyes peeled for a nicely textured branch with thick bark. And, one that’s straight as possible. Material like this would be perfect for this project.
- Two or three tree branches of varying diameters
- Hand saw
- Put a branch in the vise and cut it into blocks of different thicknesses and widths.
- Sand any rough edges.
- Use bark to make arches.
- Apply varnish to all the pieces.
Other Kinds of Toys
You don’t only have to craft toys from wood or materials found in nature. Here are gadgets that use other types.
For me, it’s not officially summer until I’m at the beach, and see a little kite flying action.
Even in today’s world full of amazing digital wonders, there’s something enthralling about holding a kite as it bobs happily across the sky. But why buy a kite, when you can make your own?
Besides saving a little money, making a kite with your kids is a fantastic learning experience. Making a Tyvek kite is an easy craft project you can make with them in a single afternoon.
Tyvek is an excellent material for kites because it doesn’t weigh much, is water resistant, hard to rip, and virtually indestructible. Lots of things these days are sent through the mail in Tyvek mailers.
So, if you have enough mailers lying around, you can upcycle them into a kite. Then, there’s no need to buy kite material.
- Tyvek (or a large mailer made from Tyvek)
- Hole punch
- Fabric (for the tail)
- Draw a pattern on the Tyvek using a pencil and ruler. One suitable design is two trapezoids—one right side up, and the other upside down connected to each other.
- Cut out the kite shape.
- Reinforce the corners of your kite with tape.
- Use a hole punch to punch a hole for the bridle string in the points of the kite furthest away from each other. This should be at the ends of the top trapezoid.
- Cut two rods from a dowel. Tape the rods along the length of the kite near the ends. The rods are the support for your kite.
- To make the tail, cut out pieces of lightweight fabric. Staple your tail to the bottom of the kite.
- For the bridle, you’ll need to cut one piece of string that is twice the width of the kite. Thread an end of the bridle through one of the corner holes of the kite. Then, tie a tight knot. Repeat on the other side.
- Cut the flying string if it’s too long for you.
- Notch a piece of scrap cardboard. Tie a knot in the flying string and put the knot in the notch to secure it. Wrap the extra string around the cardboard.
- Loop the center of the bridle string. Now tie the flying line to the loop and knot.
- If you’d like, decorate your kite with markers, decorative tape, or paint.
Pool Noodle Marble Run
Pool noodles aren’t just for the pool anymore. Pool noodles are cheap, and you can use them for so many projects.
You can buy them for very little money at the dollar stores. Just drop a marble on the pool noodle track and watch it as it zigzags its way through.
- Pool noodles
- Serrated knife
- Painter’s tape
- Use the knife to cut the pool noodle into different lengths.
- Slice the lengths down the middle creating halves.
- Tape the noodle lengths to a wall creating a marble run.
Block City Play Mat
Little tykes get to be junior city planners with this play mat. Set out a bowl of blocks and some toy cars and watch how well your children use their imagination!
- White foam board
- Washi tape
- Black Sharpie
- Unfinished wood blocks
- Acrylic paint
- Make a road with the washi tape on the board. Keep your tape pieces about one inch away from each other. Leave open spaces for buildings.
- Once you’re satisfied with the road placement, draw a dotted line down the center of each road. Add any embellishments you’d like.
- Paint two coats of paint on each block. Allow them to dry before using.
Paper Spinner Toys
I remember playing with spinner toys back when I was a kid. I had so much fun.
With cardboard, string, and just a few other things, your child can make the original fidget spinner.
When you spin this toy, it hums, and the colors on each side blend together. It’s educational because your child will see color theory in action right before her eyes.
You probably have most of the material to make this toy laying around your house.
- Glue stick
- Small paper plate
- Use the paper plate as a template to draw two circles.
- Color in the circles any way you’d like. Experiment with different designs and patterns.
- Cut out your circles.
- Glue the first circle on some card stock and use scissors to cut it from the card stock.
- Glue the second circle to the back.
- Take the spinner circle and poke two holes on either side of the center.
- Thread the string through the circles and tie the ends together.
- Hold each end of the string with your fingers and go in circles to get the string twisted.
- Now pull, and then relax. Keep going until you see the colors blend and the spinner hum.
Shadow Puppet Theater
Kids have always been fascinated by shadows.
It has been a favorite pastime for children over the centuries to create all sorts of creatures on their walls, using just their hands and a light source.
If your children are fascinated by the play between light and shadow, think about making them a shadow puppet theater. And, then dim the lights, and have them put on a show for the entire family.
With only their imagination, your kids will use their very own shadow theater to weave a narrative using only silhouettes. If you need ideas for your shadow box plays, look through a book of children’s stories.
- Cardboard box
- Packing tape
- White tissue paper
- Wooden skewers
- Cut out the bottom of a big cardboard box.
- Replace it with two pieces of white tissue paper. Tape it to the box with packing tape.
- Paste figures cut from a magazine on cardboard. Cut them out after they dry.
- Glue two wooden skewers to each figure to hold the figure up. Make sure you cut off the pointed end of the skewer before gluing.
- Stick the skewers into a piece of Styrofoam to make it easy to position the puppets.
- Dim the lights, shine a flashlight into the box, and enjoy the show!
You don’t have to blow a ton of cash on toys.
With the ideas in this article and a little imagination, you can save so much money by making your own. With some adult supervision, many of these are projects kids can make themselves.
So, get out your materials, and start making some fun toys for super cheap!