Okay, I’m only going to say it once, people: Don’t actually entertain your spawn with garbage. That’s going to make a next-level mess, possibly lead to shockingly expensive emergency room bills, and probably give you a pretty stinky kid in the bargain.
That being said, man, the more you spend on carefully researched toys that are specifically designed to engage and stimulate your growing genius, the more that diminutive Einstein just wants to chew on the box it came in. I highly recommend only buying things from dollar stores, or the super-cheap section at the front of Target; in my experience, they can tell that stuff is all cheap crap, and will therefore treasure it forever.
But even better than cheap is free! Here’s some free stuff that has genuinely been more interesting than any toy in the house:
An Empty Water Bottle
Yep, you heard me right. No, there was nothing in it. No, he wasn’t playing some sort of imaginative game using it as a prop. Ever since the goober figured out how his hands work, he’s been in love with empty water bottles. Looking at them, petting them, lightly chewing them, crinkling the really cheap ones… the possibilities are endless! And by that, I mean I can’t think of anything else to do with an empty water bottle, but for the past three years that’s been all he needs.
Pro Tip: Once he can unscrew the bottle top, make sure ALL of the water is out of the bottle. Even a drop can cause considerable chaos in the back of a car on a road trip.
A deck of cards. As long as you’re not sentimentally attached to them, or planning to hold a high stakes poker game later, this is genius. She can throw ’em! Fold ’em! Stuff them into things! I’ve tried as hard as I can, and I really can’t think of a way a deck of cards could be dangerous to anyone who’s too young to develop a gambling addiction, so you can let her go nuts.
Pro Tip: if you can find one of those little business card cases at the dollar store, that, like, quadruples the fun. Something to open AND close?! And you can stick your cards in there?? Amazing!
Pipe Cleaners & A Colander
This takes a little imagination, so work with me on this one. You know those little holes in a colander? Stick pipe cleaners into them.
Pro Tip: When you inevitably get bored watching your moppet practice fine motor skills you can even make little stick figures and things out of the pipe cleaners, and stick their legs in the holes so they can stand up. Make a whole family! Your gremlin will think you’re a goddamned Picasso.
Probably not a great plan for infants, but I swear to god in the past 24 hours clothespins have been a car, a rocket, stairs, a crocodile, an art installation on the meaning of consumerism in our time, and a way to attach two things together!
Pro Tip: This sounds like a weird one for a “cheap-or-free” thing to do, or at least would have to me, until I found out that apparently there are people who still do old-timey laundry or something, and you can get a 50 pack for a dollar. That’s whole hours of your life you could potentially get back, for a buck!
Not for the faint of heart (they can write on things, obviously), but apparently there’s nothing in the universe as fascinating as playing with, and inevitably breaking, a cheap clicky pen that you stole from the doctor’s office.
Pro Tip: Just accept that you’re a parent, and nothing will ever be clean, organized, or not-drawn-upon for the next 18 years.
You’ll find this out whether you plan to or not, because the tiny monsters just love to pull kleenex after kleenex out of the box, throwing them with dramatic flourishes, and building a fluffy mound all around themselves. And then you have to pick it all up. And you don’t have any tissues in the box anymore. And maybe you’ve got a cold, and really needed that convenient pop-up action, since you only have one free hand. And there’s cat hair on them. And now the demon-spawn is ripping them into tiny pieces, and you’re realizing the air is filling with fine particles of whatever it is they make tissues out of. Probably something carcinogenic.
Pro Tip: On second thought, just don’t do this one.
My Mom started this one, and I just can’t thank her enough. There’s painter’s tape on the floor. On the scooter. On the bed. On the cat. It will make you twitch every time you ever see that particular shade of blue, but hey, at least it’s easily removable from most surfaces!
Pro Tip: Don’t get the cheapest masking tape you can find; it won’t come off again. Ask me how I know.
So there you have it! Next rainy day you’re stuck inside, break out all these amazing new ideas, and get 20 minutes total to yourself! Being a parent is so glamorous.