Non-Toy Toys: The Toys You Didn't Even Know You Had

Non-Toy Toys: The Toys You Didn't Even Know You Had

Carrie McBride
Feb 14, 2011

I'll be trawling the aisles of the annual Toy Fair in New York today scouting out new and innovative toys to share with you all, but, ironically, what's been on my mind lately is non-toy toys. You know, those household items that you think are utilitarian and your kids think are just plain fun.

You can kind of take a backseat in seeking out these items in your home - your kids will show you what non-toys they think are great fun, many of which you'll probably confiscate, but some you'll realize are quite brilliant.

CD spindle
CD spindles (shown above in motion) are one of those frustrating pieces of plastic that aren't recyclable in most communities. But they make great spinning tops! They can be a bit difficult for toddlers to spin by themselves, but my son and I like to put it on the coffee table and then shriek as it gets closer and closer to the edge, eventually falling off. School age kids could spin it by themselves


Most kids love stickers. Most parents hate peeling stickers off everything they own. (I recently found three stickers on my thigh under my jeans, presumably put there surreptitiously while I got dressed, but it's still a bit of a mystery). Tape - painters or masking - can be just as fun for kids and a whole lot easier to remove. Give them bits just to put wherever they want or use it on the floor to create a hopscotch field, car lanes, train tracks or just as a target to throw bean bags in or roll a car past.

Bath Toys
The bath is probably the most obvious place to use non-toy toys. We previously suggested 10 Bath Toys You Can Find in Your Kitchen and these included funnels, basters, measuring cups and spoons, strainers, small colanders, whisks, egg beaters, slotted spoons and ladles.

Shoe Organizer

I recently reorganized my closet of fabric and sewing supplies and bought an inexpensive see-through, over-the-door shoe organizer to hold tools and notions. I left the bottom few rows empty to create a sorting station for my son. In this photo he's sorting plastic letters by color and we've also tried sorting playing cards by suits and Thomas the Tank Engine cards by character. Use anything safe for your child's age and that you have a lot of. My son gets so excited when he completes a "sorting mission" and will repeat it several times in a row.

Flashlights, measuring tapes and the like
More than once I've quickly handed my son a flashlight while I was trying to finish a phone conversation because I knew it would keep him safely occupied. Now I've added a small one to his toy box and it frequently goes to bed with him. He also loves measuring tapes and pretty much anything in the "hardware" section of our closet - most of which is not safe to play with some non-sharp, non-metal items like sandblocks and paintbrushes are perfectly fine. Obviously, use your judgment with safety.


I've been meaning to start a child-size dress-up collection for my son, but he's taken the lead by frequently donning a hat, boots, and other accessories and parading around the apartment. It's easy enough to pull together a collection of parent-approved (i.e. not dad's Ray Bans) dress up items just make sure they're not things you'll be upset about if anything happens to them and that they're age appropriate (like the bead necklaces above).

Salad spinner
Lots of parents have discovered how fun a salad spinner can be for creating artwork or decorating eggs at Easter time, but they also make darn good toys. My son always volunteers to help dry the lettuce when I'm preparing a salad and he doesn't seem to care if there's anything at all in the spinner. He's just a fan of buttons and cause and effect. You can also try putting objects in your spinner to try out different sounds - marbles, jingle balls and the like.

Old checkbooks, calculators, calendars, etc.

Kids love doing what grownups do and they's nothing more grown up than doing the bills! You can set your kids up to crunch the numbers with a calculator (bonus points if you have the kind that prints onto paper), deposit slips from old checkbooks, old bills (they'll love any mail you let them play with), calendars and other grownup stuff.

My ulterior motive in writing this post is to find out from you what non-toy toys your kids like that I can add to my own boredom-busting arsenal. Let me know in the comments!

(Images: 1-4 Carrie McBride, 5. Flickr member Pierre-Olivier licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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