It’s one of those jokes the universe loves to play on parents (and their wallets): The moment you present your young child with a shiny, expensive new toy is the exact moment she becomes enthralled with the packaging it came in—and doesn’t bat an eye at the actual present.
I’m constantly amazed at how the simplest of items can keep my toddler’s attention for way longer than the stuff I’ve shelled out significant dough to purchase for him.
So this summer, save yourself the money—not to mention the frustration!—by sticking with straightforward toys that your little one will find just as amusing as more expensive ones with all the bells and whistles.
1. All-Purpose Ball
It doesn’t get simpler than this! A rubber ball that’s easy for little limbs to throw, kick, and (attempt to) catch is sure to provide hours of entertainment. Great for developing gross motor skills too. This colorful one from Melissa and Doug ($9.26) features a cute starfish design.
2. Baby Pool
Maybe a membership to the community pool just isn’t in the budget this summer. Or maybe you just can’t make it there on every single scorcher of an afternoon. Baby pools, then, are a fast and cost-effective way to cool off. I like the Intex Sunset Glow Baby Pool ($8.19) because it’s deeper than other ones we’ve tried, plus my toddler likes the softer floor.
3. Paintbrush and Water
No mess. No fuss. And most likely no cost, since you probably already own a paintbrush and a tub or bucket.
4. Sidewalk Chalk
My little guy can entertain himself for quite some time decorating our driveway with a rainbow of blues, pinks, yellows, and oranges. He especially likes when I draw something like a heart or a star for him to color in. We’ve found that Crayola’s Sidewalk Chalk Bucket ($9.96) is a good value because the pieces don’t break too easily.
What toddler doesn’t love bubbles? Heck, what human doesn’t love bubbles? We buy a a big bottle of Gazillion Bubbles ($9.99) and then use all sizes and shapes of wands.
6. Hula Hoop
Sure, most toddlers don’t have the hip action required for actual hula hooping, but my guy loves just rolling the hoop around the yard or using it as a makeshift basketball hoop. If you don’t have one lying around from your own childhood, this one snaps together and apart for easier storage ($6.95).
7. Butterfly Net
Let your kiddo loose in the backyard to run around and try to catch all manner of bugs and butterflies. This net from Melissa and Doug ($8.99) is colorful and has great reviews, but note that it does have small parts.
8. Magnifying Glass
For closely inspecting all those bugs they catch, of course! This not only keeps toddlers entertained, but also encourages an appreciation for the natural world. Here’a another Melissa and Doug-brand option ($5.69).
9. Cardboard Box and Crayons
Perfect for the inevitable rainy summer day! My toddler practically starts cheering whenever a large package shows up on our doorstep because he knows he’ll get to play artist on the outside and inside of the box! And again no additional cost to me, since we already own more crayons than we know what to do with.
What’s your go-to toy in the summer? Have you ever felt like you wasted money on an expensive toy your kid wasn’t even interested in?
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