Ever notice that after spending $50 or more on a top-of-the-line toy, your baby or toddler will spend days enraptured by the box in which it came? While toys have their purpose, and today’s technology-based toys are great teaching/learning tools, there’s something to be said for the homespun fun of making a special toy for your child — or perhaps as a one-of-a-kind gift for a friend or neighbor’s child, or niece or nephew.
Fabric books, stocking dolls, glitter bottles and puzzles that improve cognitive and dexterity skills are easily made using common household items like fabric, oatmeal and coffee canisters, pantyhose, wooden blocks, egg cartons, etc. Whether you’re an accomplished sewer, crafter, full of creativity or just want to do something basic but fun, lots of information is available for the viewing (tutorials and videos) on the Internet, and the following ideas may inspire you.
For baby fabric books, Houston, Texas mom Tina Carp discovered printable fabric (Avery.com makes it, as do others) that can be used with an inkjet printer. Fabric sheets can be customized using downloaded templates and clip art, though you don’t have to go this route. If you know a basic stitch with needle and thread, simply draw or paint some letters or numbers on same size square-cut pieces of fabric, or maybe paint some playful images of farm animals, the sun, moon, a bird, flower, etc. Place a sheet of cardboard or something soft like batting or cotton sheets in between two squares of fabric and stitch all around. When you have enough “pages,” connect with rings from the office store.
Like the idea of stocking dolls or sock puppets? They’ve been around for decades and are a good repurposing of so-called “orphan” socks or old pantyhose. While online tutorials range from simple to elaborate, for a quick foray into the craft, using an adult’s white sweat sock, stuff with cotton balls and tie at the “neck” with a pretty ribbon. For the torso, insert more cotton balls and tie off. Attach a fabric skirt by stitching material to the “waist,” and sew on buttons for eyes, nose, and mouth. (Note: If use is intended for a baby or very young child, omit buttons as they can come loose and be swallowed, using colored markers instead.) Hair is achieved with scraps of felt sewn to the crown.
If baby is fussy, experts say there’s nothing like something shiny and bright to distract her. As water has a soothing effect, combining it with shimmer is the key to calm. To that end, glitter bottles are quick and easy to make — and even older siblings can participate en route to a much desired result for all. The trick is to use a formula that will allow the glitter to disseminate and not fall to the bottom too quickly, but not stick to the sides either. Here’s a formula from www.spoonful.com:
1 16-ounce (or larger) size plastic bottle, emptied and cleaned with label removed
Gel glitter glue
1/2 – 3/4 cup fine glitter
hot tap water
hot glue gun
Squeeze no more than a 1/2-inch of gel glitter glue into the bottom of the bottle. Pour in fine glitter. Fill bottle with very hot tap water, leaving an inch of space at the top. Replace the cap tightly and shake until all of the gel glue and glitter are mixed up. A chopstick or skewer is useful to break up chunks and scrape any glue sticking to the sides. Any glue sticking to the sides will dissolve and mix in eventually. After the first hour or so, and as the water cools over time, it will take longer for the glitter to fall completely to the bottom. Use a low-temp glue gun all along the bottle neck and quickly replace the cap, closing as tightly as possible.
And while developing cognitive skills are paramount in babies and toddlers, store bought games and puzzles, while helpful, usually end up scattered throughout the house, under the couch, in the yard, even in the cat’s litter box, according to dad Kyle Aleganti of Teaneck, New Jersey.
Building block puzzles are great teaching tools and bottomless fun for toddlers. If you can’t find plain wooden blocks on eBay or from other sources, you can purchase a square post from your local building supply store. Have it sawed into six small blocks, making sure the corners are sanded smooth. Draw or paint pictures on the sides of each block, so that when stacked, one side adds up to a house: front lawn; front door; first floor window; second floor window; roof; sun and birds in the sky). Another side, when stacked, may result in a fully realized person: feet; shins; thighs; torso; neck; head (be sure to paint a huge smile to encourage your child to build to the smiling man or woman!). Varnish so paint will last. What a fun way to learn!