Big Fun with Simple Toys

These basic toys and everyday items can prompt lots of active play.

Don't overlook the most obvious, simple toys when it comes to encouraging active play, indoors and out. Sure, bikes and trampolines are fun and get those large muscles moving. So do formal classes or team sports like swimming or soccer. But you might be surprised at how these ordinary and inexpensive items encourage physical activity too.

Sidewalk chalk

simple toys: sidewalk chalk
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Creating an artistic masterpiece gets muscles moving (bending, squatting, reaching), but there's so much more that chalk can do to inspire active play: Chart an obstacle course, a hopscotch or foursquare court, a race track. The sky's the limit—right there on the ground.


Swimming pool noodles

simple toys: Pool noodles
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Not just for floating! Toss out a bunch of noodles for kids to use on dry land as swords, projectiles, relay race obstacles, and many more creative play props.


Garden hose

Simple toys: garden hose
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Attach it to a sprinkler, use its stream as a limbo stick, water all the plants in your garden, fill up squirters and balloons: The ordinary backyard hose offers lots of opportunities for fun.


Cardboard boxes

Simple toys - Cardboard
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Kids can use cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes to make (and then decorate) forts, tunnels, pretend vehicles, and obstacle courses. The dramatic play that follows just extends the fun.



Simple toys - balls
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Balls come in a million different colors, shapes, and sizes and can offer a full-body workout for kids as they throw, catch, kick, and chase.


Hula hoops

Simple toys - hula hoops
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Go beyond the basic twist (although that's fun on its own!) and try some tricks, or use a hoop as a jump rope, wheel, or target.


Water bottles

Raid the recycling bin: You can turn plastic water bottles into bowling pins or hand weights. Add a wooden dowel to a two-liter bottle and you have a fine bat for hitting Wiffle or Nerf balls. Cut open a large detergent jug to make a scoop. What else can you make from a plastic bottle?


Painter's tape

A roll of painter's tape is perfect for indoor play (it sticks to walls and floors for playtime, but is easily removed later). Turn it into a balance beam, a race track, even your own game of Twister.


Simple toys - flashlight
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Be ready for campouts or sleepover fun with these ideas for night-time games using a flashlight. (Some you can play indoors too!)


Buckets, shovels, and scoops

Simple toys - bucket
Catherine Holecko

An inexpensive set of sand toys can inspire activity year round, especially with the addition of some toy vehicles and animal figurines. Use its shovels, scoops, and molds for play in dirt, gravel, wood chips, sand, and snow!

Rhythm instruments

Simple toys - musical instrument
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You can get a set of kids' musical instruments inexpensively, or you can just go old-school and use pots, pans, and wooden spoons. Together, these prompt dancing, marching, and more pretend play.


Simple toys - egg race
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If you don't have one around the house (or you don't want to hand over your sports watch or smartphone to your kid!), pick up a cheap stopwatch for your kids to use. Challenge them to all kinds of timed competitions!

Balloons or beach balls

Simple toys - balloons
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The lightness of balloons and beach balls can make them more challenging to maneuver—but less likely to cause trouble if they hit anyone in the face. Try 12 different games to play with these inexpensive toys.


Jump ropes

Simple toys - jump rope
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Jump ropes are great for solo, pair, or group skipping and hopping. Plus, kids can add them to an obstacle course, use them to mark start and finish lines in a race, tie to wagons to haul things around, and other creative uses (some of which definitely require parental supervision!).


Plastic cups

simple toys - plastic cups
Josie Holecko

Cheap plastic cups can be construction materials for pyramids or towers. They can be targets for water squirters or Nerf darts. They can be game pieces and more!


Old bed sheets

 Many kids have experienced parachute play at school or camp. They can approximate it at home if you give them an old bed sheet and some balloons or lightweight balls. Of course sheets are also perfect for making forts and hideouts. Or hang them over a rope or tension rod to make a soccer or hockey goal.

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