Top Toddler “Non-Toys”

This is the post toy manufacturers don’t want you to read. But I just can’t keep silent any longer.

Toys suck.

I don’t want them to suck. Really, I don’t. I always pop into a toy store when I see one nearby, always hoping there will be something in there that my son will adore. And – let’s be honest here – we’re all hoping that if we find that one perfect toy, our toddlers will sit for hours on end and play happily (i.e – quietly) with themselves.

But that doesn’t happen. Ever. Because toys suck.

So I’m giving up on toys. Sure, I’ve still got them around – all the train sets and stacking blocks and miniature puzzles and those “put-the-shapes-in-the-right-hole” thingy-s. Maybe my 22-month old boy is still too young to appreciate them. But in the meantime, I’m making note of the things he DOES like to play with, and I’m keeping those handy instead.

Here are some top contenders for “non-toy” hits in our own house:

The Bathroom


Counting with Q-tips… 1…2…3…

My son has a field day in the bathroom – it’s a non-toy treasure chest! So many little jars of stuff to stack on the floor, toilet paper to unwind, laundry baskets to empty and refill. And you know that lingering box of tampons collecting dust on your shelves? Excellent toddler fun. Just look at this photo – he’s surrounded by wonderful store-bought toys, but what does my little meatloaf enjoy the most? A giant box of Q-tips, taken downstairs from the bathroom. This, my friends, is true genius at work.

The Kitchen


Our kitchen’s very own grab-bag

You know that giant drawer you have with all the odd-shaped kitchen gadgets? The one that makes you root around in frustration trying to find something that is inevitably not even in there but rather sitting in the dishwasher or on the drying rack?

Yep, perfect non-toy material. Place anything potentially lethal out of reach and then let your little one go wild. My little guy loves the plastic spatulas and the measuring cups and the can opener and the lemon squeezer. It’s like one of those giant grab-bags we used to have in school around Christmas time. You get to reach in, root around for something and then pull out some new treasure. Good stuff.

Along the same lines is the infamously disorganized Tupperware drawer that we all have and hate. And this set of cookie cutters from IKEA. Sure, they require some clean-up when the fun is over, but what’s two minutes of cleaning compared to 10 minutes of quiet playtime?

The Terrace


Not our terrace, but still dirt

I feel fortunate to have a house here in Gran Canaria with a large, sun-filled terrace. Quite naturally, I have loaded up the terrace with all kinds of outdoor playthings – miniature bikes and cars and footballs and child-sized tables and chairs. But what does my little one gravitate to every single time we’re outside?

The dirt.

Yep. Go figure. Ditch the toys that claim to help develop your kids’ motor skills, or that promote productive play or heightened learning or blah blah blah….  Just get yourselves a big pile of dirt and be done with it.

I must admit, however, that Per Christian isn’t actually allowed to play in the dirt. Which means – he receives a loud “Nononononono!” every time he scoops some up from the flower bed and attempts to swallow it. Which means – it’s even more interesting than it was before Mommy said something.

The Grocery Store

Have you ever taken your toddler to the grocery store without actually strapping them into the cart? No?! Try it, really!


Wrapping paper = joy. Trust.

You’re going to think I’m crazy here, but this is honestly one of my favorite things to do with Per Christian at the moment. There’s HUGE non-toy potential in the grocery store!

I’m not talking about doing this on those big once-a-week stock-up shopping trips, but rather the ones where you just pop in for some milk or a few things for dinner. Let them help you carry/drag the mini shopping basket around the store, or pick out the bread from the bakery, or help you place the fruit & veggies into plastic bags.

And when he screams for that roll of wrapping paper that you really don’t need? Eh – let him have the wrapping paper. 1 dollar of cost for you, but then an entire day of amusement for him. Besides that, he’ll be distracted during the inevitable candy vortex that awaits you at the cashier. It’s a win-win!

The Great Outdoors


Must. Have. THIS. Rock.

This one’s a no-brainer, but deserves a mention anyway. No toy on the face of the planet can amuse my toddler like the park. Of course, it’s mostly the dirt and the rocks at the park that he loves so much, but still. You haven’t lived until you’ve sat peacefully for 30 minutes in the sunshine watching your little boy happily hunting for and throwing small pebbles into the lake.

They also have fountains and ducks and climbing gyms at our park, but really it’s all about the rocks for Per Christian. And the dirt.

How about you all? What non-toys are big hits in your own house?

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