22 Fun DYI Developmental Toys You Can Make for Free

20 DIY Toys

If you’re a parent of a child with special needs, developmental delays or a typically developing child, you’re always looking for something else to help your child build their brain, motor skills and abilities. You can make a ton of do-it-yourself toys for free from what you already have in the house. Most of these toys are intended for children from about birth through age three or children who are developmentally about that level, although some would work for older children as well. Have some more suggestions or feedback? Share it with us in the comments.

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  1. Plastic water bottles – Remove the label from a plastic water bottle and recycle it into a fun shaker. You can put assorted items in to separate bottles, such as rice, dried beans, beads, glitter or anything else that occurs to you. Make sure the cap is on tightly or glue it on. You can also take a plastic water bottle and squish it just slightly and give it to your child. The bottles make a fun sound when crushed or squeezed and its great exercise for the hand and forearms. Either remove the cap or make sure it is on tightly or glued. Be aware of the possibility of these items being choking hazards, and don’t leave your child alone with these items if they mouth things.
  2. Bumpy massager balls or dryer balls – Balls covered in bumps are a fun texture for kids to explore and play with. They stimulate the senses and these balls make a fun sound when rolled in a box, a plastic bin or a metal cooking bowl.
  3. Flashlight – Flashlights are great ways to help kids learn to push buttons and work on fine motor skills, as well as work on language skills such as “on” and “off”. You can also block the stream of light, shine it on walls or a mirror, put a thinly colored cloth over the front to show the difference and a lot of other things to keep this game interesting.
  4. Touch lamps – These are a great alternative to flashlights, especially for children who don’t have the skills to push a button but still work on teaching cause and effect and motor skills.
  5. Vibrating massagers – Small, handheld massagers are great ways to stimulate children with muscle coordination issues and sensory processing issues, plus they’re fun! Let a child feel the vibration on himself, let him put the massager on you and try other surfaces like a box, a cookie sheet, a tile floor and listen to the different sounds it can make.
  6. Electric toothbrush – these are great for children with oral motor issues or sensitivities to items in their mouth. Let your child hold it and chew on it.
  7. Box – What kid doesn’t love a box? Find a box that is large enough for your child to sit in. Help them get in and out of the box. Open the box on both sides and crawl through it. Tape a couple together and make a box tunnel. Show them how to close and open it and let them try it. Put things in the box and take them out of the box. Flip the box upside down and hide things under the box. Cut little windows in the box in a shutter shape, so the child can sit inside and open and close the “shutters”. Cut little holes in the sides of it and push items through the holes. Put the box on your head. The possibilities never end.
  8. Play box – Tax a box large enough for your child to sit it. Place the bottom against the wall and leave the front open. Using some yarn or string, hang toys from the “ceiling” of the box. This can include your child’s toys or things from around the house like a plastic water bottle with some rice inside, a large bell, a stuffed animal or anything else. Be sure the yarn is not long enough to get wrapped around your child’s neck. Let your child decorate the box with crayons and stickers or help them do it.
  9. Other boxes – Give your child empty containers such as an oatmeal box, formula cans, empty, clean tin can (without sharp edges), egg cartons, paper towel rolls, cereal boxes, empty, rinsed shampoo bottles and other interestingly shaped and sized items. Depending on age and ability, you can help them makes crafts with these items or do things like bang on them or cut small holes in them and them push toys through the holes.
  10. Bicycle horn – It might not be your favorite thing to listen to, but squeezing the bulb on a bicycle horn is great for fine motor skills and gives kids an immediate, fun reward of a loud, funny sound.
  11. Diaper box table – Flip a diaper box upside down and cut half circle holes out of a box so your child can slide their legs underneath and the box can be above their lap. The box can be used as a table to elevate items to a different height for play. It also makes a great drum. You can decorate it with your child.
  12. Box of silly stuff to wear – Start a box of fun things to wear, like various hats, fake beard, non-scary masks, bow tie, tiara, pieces of cloth and so on. Use stuff from the house or pick up some left over items on clearanc8e after Halloween. Try on the different items with your child, including using things in way’s they’re not supposed to be used. When children start to figure out where things are supposed to go, it can lead to loads of giggles when daddy tries to a wear a hat on his foot or his face.
  13. Nothing beats measuring cups, metal cooking bowls, wooden spoons, Tupperware and other things you can find in your cabinets. Look for things that can be banged on or banged together, and items that can be stacked, or fit inside other items, as well as funny shapes that will be fun for a child who mouths things to explore, like a wire whisk or beaters.
  14. Colorful scarves or pieces of cloth and a fan – tie a piece of light weight cloth such as a sheer scarf to the front of a oscillating fan. Turn it on and let your child try to catch the piece of cloth as it flies around. As your child gets better, you can let the fan turn back and forth. Make sure your watch your child so they don’t stick fingers in the fan or pull the fan on top of themselves.
  15. Peg Board – Take a scrap of a piece of wood such as a two by four and some dowel rods of various widths. A dowel rod is a rounded stick, like the rod in a paper towel holder. If you don’t have any dowel rods, you can get them for less than a dollar at a hardware store. Drill holes in the two by four that are a little larger than your dowel rods. Cut the dowel rods down to about inches long and sand any rough edges. Your child can stick the rods into the holes and pull them out or slide them through the holes if the board is placed on its side. This is great for fine motor skills. You can paint your creation or leave it natural, but if you paint it, be sure to use non-toxic paint.
  16. Messy play – You can let your child get some great wonderful sensory input if you don’t mind cleaning up a mess! On an easy to clean surface, in an empty baby pool or the tub, or on something you can throw away like a garbage bag, let your child play with cosmetics. You can include things such as shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste, lotion, shaving cream, aloe gel, a bar of soap and other skin-safe items you come across in the cabinet. If your child mouths things, instead use a variety of pureed baby foods, whipped cream, pudding and so on.
  17. A spinner – If your child loves to spin things, try a globe. You can also make a spinner out of a stick and an empty oatmeal container with the bottom cut off. It can be held or mounted and kids can whack it to make it turn. You can do the same with a paper towel holder and an empty (or full) paper towel roll.
  18. Busy board – This has done wonders for my daughter and we made it in one afternoon with things we had around the house. Take a board and attach various items that are fun for a child to manipulate. Thinks of things that can be squeezed, pushed, pulled, turned, rolled, flipped back and forth and of course, chewed on! A few ideas: hinges, an old doorbell, a cardboard book, old, unused baby toys, a rattle attached by a short string, a toy steering wheel, a stick with items placed on it that can be rotated, and so on. Look online for ideas. We hung the board on the wall so the only way my daughter can play it is if she stands up (which she doesn’t like to do). It has helped her increase her strength because she is willing to stand longer in order to get to the toys!
  19. Musical instruments – OK these aren’t free, but can be very, very cheap or made, and music is proven to activate multiple parts of the brain at once. Playing music has also been linked to better brain connectivity between the right and left hemispheres and enhanced motor skills. Look for low cost items such as a kazoo, whistle, bike horn, party noise makers and horns, maracas, tambourines, pennywhistles, and tiny xylophones. A drum can be made from any plastic, metal or plastic container in the house. Make rattles by putting beads into a plastic bottle. Put large bells onto a heavy string or cord. With older children, you can place several glasses on a table and put a different amount of water in each. Let the child strike them gently with a spoon to produce different tones.
  20. Magnet board – Select large magnets from the refrigerator and a cookie sheet and let your child place them and pull them off the sheet. Be sure not to let children chew on the magnets since they can be a choking hazard.
  21. Box of cloth – Go to a fabric store and buy a bunch of remnants from the discount rack. Put them in a box and let your child play with them, feeling different textures. Rub them on your skin, pull a big one over both your heads and hide underneath, or play peek-a-boo.
  22. Balloons – Kids love balloons. If you don’t have any around the house, you can get a bag for about a dollar. Blow up one and bat it around with your child, let him or her hold it and squeeze it, bounce it gently against your heads and drum on it. Blow up several and drop them all over the floor and try to get them with your child or push several at your child at once, or throw them up in the air and let them fall. If your child doesn’t crawl or walk, you can set them inside a laundry basket and drop the balloons in on top of them to let them enjoy several at once. CAUTION! Deflated or popped balloons are choking hazards! Always stay with them while they have balloons and throw out any broken ones.

Please comment below and share your experience with us, or give us a feedback about this article. If you think some tips are not included here, please let us know so that we could share them with the rest.