Baby toys can be expensive. Especially if you are anything like me and prefer all wood, eco-friendly toys. Unfortunately, I have a hard time finding these types of toys used. It can be especially expensive if you are seeking to tool your baby’s shelves with authentic Montessori materials. I have invested in some quality toys that I know will survive two kids (read “The Montessorification of our Home” for more details), but some of Leo’s favorite “toys” to play with are things we had just laying around.
Now, as an early childhood educator I know how to get creative when on a tight budget because, let’s be honest, how many teachers are not on a tight budget. It can be exceptionally hard when trying to devise works for little ones with little hands. But if you look carefully around your house I’m sure you will find a ton of interesting items that will keep your child entertained while meeting their developmental needs.
Here are a few things I think about when trying to create new works for Leo:
1. Does it meet his need for sensory exploration? At this age Leo uses his five senses whenever he comes into contact with something new. He has a system: he picks it up, looks at it, shakes it, and puts it in his mouth. With each new item he has to figure out how it feels, how it looks, how it sounds, and how it tastes before he can further explore how it works. I can’t tell how much he is smelling items intentionally, but I’m sure he will add that to his “test” eventually. Later on I will create activities for him that will help him refine his senses individually, but for now an all-in-one approach works for us.
2. Is it safe to put in his mouth? Is it clean? Can he choke on it? Does it have any sharp edges? Does it contain any dyes that may harm him upon ingesting? Everything must past this test because EVERYTHING is going into his mouth.
3. Does it meet a developmental need? For example, right now Leo is in a nesting phase. Whenever he is working with containers he must see if one will fit inside of the other. And then he repeats this motion to help refine his technique. He does this with the measuring cups, the mixing bowls, his tubs, and of course, with his nesting/stacking cups.
After I have asked myself the above questions, I get to work. Once complete, I place said item in a basket (I found great, durable woven baskets at Target that fit on his shelves beautifully) and then place them either on one of his shelves or in his discovery basket that currently resides in the kitchen.
Here is a small list of works I have made that Leo enjoys:
Shakers. I collect a lot of recyclables. You never know what kind of work you could create using bottles and boxes. I took some Gatorade bottles, peeled off the wrappers, and washed them. Once dried, I filled each with dried goods I found in the pantry (think rice, lentils, pasta, beans, etc). I screwed the lids on tight and placed them in a basket for Leo to use. He loves the different sounds they make and how he can see what’s inside as he shakes the bottles. He also has fun rolling the bottles around on the floor.
Color Bottles. For this one I went out and bought travel-sized bottles, but any set of small, clear bottles with twist on tops will do. I simply added water and food flooring to create a set of rainbow bottles. Just make sure you twist on the caps extra tight and check to make sure the bottles don’t leak! Leo really likes the sound the water makes when he shakes the bottles next to his ear. I also showed him what the colors look like when we hold the bottles up to the light.
Basket of Tubs. I collected an assortment of containers with the help of my Mom – yogurt, hummus, vanilla extract, baby oatmeal, etc. After washing them I threw them into Leo’s Discovery Basket for some open-ended fun. He watches them roll on the ground and crawls after them. He is mesmerized by how the yogurt tub rolls in a circle rather than a straight line because of its shape. We make them into drums or sometimes I put other toys inside and make them into shakers. I even build towers with them for him to knock down. Oh, the possibilities!
Fabric Basket. Leo loves playing with the laundry when I’m trying to fold our clothes. To encourage his exploration of different fabrics I placed a basket of assorted items on his shelf. Right now the basket contains a burp cloth, a flannel wipe, a cloth diaper, a silky handkerchief, and one of my old winter hats. He loves flapping the different items around and feeling the different textures on his hands.
Tissue Box. After “The Sickening” went threw our house we had a few empty tissue boxes laying around. I cleaned them with a disinfectant wipe and filled them with some of my handkerchiefs/bandanas. Leo loves pulling out the handkerchiefs and waving them all around. Sometimes we play peekaboo with them. Sometimes we sing scarf songs that we learned during Story Time at the library. And he loves it when I place a handkerchief over my head – he pulls it off and giggles the sweetest giggle I’ve ever heard. He hasn’t quite figured out how to get the handkerchiefs back in the box, but that will come eventually.
Mixing Bowls. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I actually plan to get a small shelf for Leo to put in the corner of the kitchen in a few weeks. This shelf will ultimately become his Practical Life shelf. For now though, that corner of the kitchen has his Discovery Basket and a set of nesting mixing bowls. We have both metal and plastic mixing bowls and they all fit nicely into each other. He loves placing the bowls inside of each other. He likes to tap them and watch them wobble around. Add a wooden spoon and Leo has his own drum set.
It’s not always easy keeping Leo entertained. Some days all he wants to do is climb the stairs or climb all over me, in which case we do because I know it’s what he needs to be doing. This is why observation is so important because if I pay close attention and watch him closely when he is busy, he let’s me know what type of work he needs. And when all else fails and neither the store bought or homemade works are enough, I bundle him up, take him out to the front yard, and let him play in the leaves.