10 Things Your Toddler Will Play With More Than Any Toy You Buy

Save your money and keep it simple with these toy substitutes.
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“Mummy, can I have that? I NEEEDDDDD it.” The banshee cry all parents dread when their child clocks a shop window or that hypnotic advert pops up yet again. The answer, of course, is no. That is not until birthdays, Christmas, they’ve done something good or you need (ahem) to bribe them. At which point, parents show just as much interest in what these toys promise as children.

But do they ever deliver? Before long the novelty fades and they’re added to the heap of rarely-played-with items – a pile of forgotten dreams.

If we actually thought about what children spend their time doing, would we even buy into the idea of toys at all?

Here are our top 10 things your child will play with more than any toy.

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1. The TV remote control

You surround your baby with tactile toys that crackle, rattle and squeak; black and white things to stimulate their visual development and comforting soft toys. Then the first object they show real interest in and desire for, with surprising willpower is the TV remote. I know several parents who have dug out old obsolete ones to give to their toddler. They know though. Toddlers so know.

2. A cardboard box

This is the famous one, and it’s true – the old joke that they’ll play more with the box it came in than the present itself is based very much on parenting reality. Except it’s not just that box, it’s any box, and woe betide any parent who tries to dispose of their little one’s favourite cardboard box because they can’t get through the hall.

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3. Bags

For a successful game, all you need is:

  • Random objects
  • A bag to put them in
  • A vivid imagination

It’s all in the anticipation when it comes to imaginary holidays and shopping trips. The thrill of ‘packing’ a bag (any bag will do) is what this all centres around. Apparently, must-haves include pencils, pens, tissues and bananas. Occasionally, casting around, some toys will suffice, but this is poor fare compared to bona fide grown-up items.

4. Sellotape

I know a couple who got their son a sellotape dispenser for his fourth birthday.

“He had a room full of toys,” said his mum. “All he wanted to do, though, was make things with paper and sticky tape. This present transformed his life – not to mention ours – as he was able to get on with his creations without constantly asking us to tear off strips of tape for him.”

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5. Plasters

Strictly speaking, they don’t play with these, but they covet them and take pleasure in them like nothing else, sometimes even driven to hilarious attempts at self harm in order to secure one.

6. Water

Just some of the forms in which children enjoy HO: hosepipes, the sea, the swimming pool, paddling pools, streams and rivers, in spoonfuls as pretend medicine and in the bath.

7. Soft furnishings

There is nothing more thrilling to a child than a disembowelled sofa, its cushions liberated from the mundane function of being sat on to become a den, a slide, an Octopod. It’s like soft play but so much more fun because it’s not allowed.

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8. Sticks

I defy any family to go on a walk without acquiring at least one stick. You’d think they were all much of a muchness, but children are connoisseurs of sticks, and can identify their specially selected ones with alarming accuracy.

‘Losing’ them is a risky business. They come in handy as swords, walking sticks, strimmers and guitars.

9. Each other

Why are two children the same age often easier to look after than one? Because they play with each other. It’s amazing how a room full of toys they have shown very little interest in comes alive to them when seen through the fresh eyes of a visitor. Mostly, though, the toys are mere props in their imaginary play. They can go on for hours – mummies and daddies, babies, hospitals, Narnia, boats....

10. Paper

This is a favourite of my three-year-old. He’s taken to making things from paper with a prolonged concentration he gives almost nothing else. I say almost because DVDs and computer games are also part of his daily diet.

But when he’s not using a console, he’s making one out of paper. Really. Other things he’s made include books, magazines, a lollypop lady’s sign, a keypad for his door, a Ben Ten Watch, and a laptop.

Give him a pad of paper and he’s a happy boy. He hardly looks up when he’s got stuck into a project. Unless a toy advert comes on the TV that is....