Priceless Play: 7 Ways to Create Valuable Play without Spending a Dime

Posted on April 5, 2017

By: Lydia Bryant, CTRS

We’ve all heard the phrase, “it’s priceless.”  When we play with our children, it’s priceless.  When we watch them move with joy, it’s priceless.  When we laugh with them, it’s priceless.  While play, joy and laughter are priceless, parents know that paying for it certainly is not. The need to providing enriching, joyful and inclusive play to our children does not need to be a financial burden.  Whether you have access to a Lekotek toy lending library or not, the ability to create a world of play for our children simply takes a bit of ingenuity and imagination.  The result? Priceless.

As experts of inclusive and accessible play, we know the importance of play in a child’s development and overall quality of life for the family.  Creating those moments of inclusive and accessible play need not be a burden – financially or otherwise. For creating developmentally valuable play experiences that are accessible to children of all abilities, here are 7 easy and inexpensive ideas from our Lekotek Inclusive Play Specialists that are in a word, priceless.

1. Box Town (Social Development)

Have you ever noticed that your kids always seem more interested in the packaging a toy came in than the toy itself? Well, run with it! Collect 5-10 large boxes from the recycling and use markers or paint around the house to decorate the boxes like buildings in a town. Create a library, school, post office, grocery store, doctor’s office, etc., and let kiddos run their town. Do you want to add something about incorporating cars or dolls or stuffed animals as “townsfolk”?

2. Mix & Match Crafts (Cognitive development)

Children have great imaginations that can lead to some pretty fabulous creative expression. An old paper towel or toilet paper roll, or paper cup can serve as a base to make a person, animal or mystical creature. Add cotton balls, puff balls, feathers, tissue paper and Popsicle sticks to add features and create more sensory touch points. Googly eye are always a great addition, but feel free to use a hole puncher as well. You can even use what you have in your recycling bin right now to make a fun craft!

3. Plant & Play (Emotional development)

An old egg carton (cardboard) can act as mini planters for an indoor garden. Seeds can be purchased for less than $1 and dirt can be collected from your backyard. Taking care of a plant is a great opportunity for children to learn about the life cycle and practice empathy skills they will use throughout life. Planting and gardening can also be a great sensory experience for them. Getting outside and digging in dirt gives the chance to feel the dirt in our hands, smell the scents of the outdoors, and feel the breeze on our skin. Create your own sensory garden with a variety aromatic plants.

4. Sensory Showdown (Sensory development)

The word ‘sensory’ has become a recognizable buzz word in the special needs community. Professionals and parents understand how important sensory experiences are for the kiddos in our lives, but it is often a developmental area that gets overlooked. Sensory issues are magnified in children with SPD or ASD, but remember that EVERY child (and adult) has specific sensory preferences that can motivate or irritate them in play. Be aware of your child’s sensory preferences (lighting, temperature, noise and movement) when setting up activities. So, what are some sensory activities we can do at home?

  1. Sensory Bin (dry pasta noodles, rice, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, beans, small toys)
  2. Sensory Bag (Ziploc bag filled with hair gel or aloe vera, and small objects like beads or marbles that can be manipulated from outside of bag. Use Duct tape to adhere bag to flat surface for more stability)

  3. Sensory Tray (Plastic tray or cookie tray filled with shaving cream, whipped cream or sand. Add color and texture with food coloring, glitter, beads or puff balls.)

  4. Sensory Bottle (Clear plastic bottle filled with water, soap and glitter. Add pebbles, shells or beads for more color and dimension. Spin the bottle around to create a tornado for kiddo to watch and explore, or roll across floor to add gross motor movement to activity.)

7. Talk about a Scavenger Hunt (Communicative development)

When I think of a scavenger hunt from my childhood I always picture door to door collection from neighbors, but you can create a great scavenger without leaving your home (or even one room). Write clues and riddles for the family to follow. For example, “This is a place where you brush your teeth” or “Look under your parent’s bed.” Hide more clues or a little knick knack at each location.

6. Becoming a Butterfly  (Physical development)

At home, we can learn about butterflies through pretend play. Crawl on the floor for the caterpillar stage and gradually crawl slower and slower to represent the caterpillar getting plumper and plumper. Once you have slowed to a stop, use a blanket to wrap your child in a ‘cocoon’. Lay on the floor or couch in cocoon for 30 seconds to a minute to represent the time spent in this stage. Finally roll out of cocoon and pretend to fly around the room. Have colorful scarves and clothing available to dress up as a beautiful butterfly once your child has emerged from the cocoon.

7. Family ‘Fort’ Night (Social development)

Good old fashioned fort building is fun for the whole family and doesn’t cost a dime! Expand on the experience by designating an evening of fort building with sleeping bags, pillows, cushions, blankets, flashlights, and books or music.

So next time you are at the store thinking about spending money on the hottest new tech toy or an expensive program remember that you and your child have all the play skills and materials you need. Use your expertise and imagination to enrich activities you can set up for little or no cost.


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