Monique Tait

Monique Tait

Feb 3, 2024. 4 mins read

Parenting

8 Thrifty Toddler Activities We Love

The cost of living (or "cozzie livs", as the youth say, to make it all seem more….fun…) has been hitting hard of late, and what’s even harder to swallow is the cost of raising a child in Australia has increased by more than 10% in the past five years! Parents are wondering how on earth they can entertain their young children without taking out a second mortgage.

Group Of Young Friends Camping And Burning A Wood Fire

Gone are the days of endless trips to the play centre where children leisurely sip babycinos as we ram their calendars with expensive outings. Splurging on excessive fun and a million new toys has reached its logical conclusion. It’s over. Parenting has evolved.

We know the power of playtime is so important, and now you can also enable some thrifty toddler activities with just a little imagination, creativity and this helpful guide from us. 

Thrifty Activity 1: Backyard Camping 

Paying over $100 for a patch of grass at a campsite just seems excessive in this day and age. Especially when you can camp for free in your own backyard

How-to:

  1. Dust off your tent and sleeping bags

  2. Hang some fairy lights

  3. Toast some marshmallows over a simulated campfire

  4. Pretend you know what you’re talking about regarding star constellations and galaxies far, far away or 

  5. Just relax, enjoy some quality time with the kids and observe the sky in all its wonder

Don’t have a backyard or a tent? Don’t fear. You can have your frugal camping adventure inside! Hang some sheets over your dining table, cosy up with blankets or make a pillow fort. You can close the curtains and put sleeping bags on the carpet, while you play board games and tell scary stories. 

Thrifty Activity 2: Junk Robots

If you’re anything like us, you’ve got bins full of recycling you’re still dealing with from Christmas day. Stop what you’re doing and grab them before the recycling truck comes! These bad boys of thrift can be just the trick to unleashing your toddler’s inner design skills by making them into cool homemade cardboard robots.

How-to:

  1. Grab cardboard boxes, milk cartons and bottle lids. Your trash is your toddler's treasure

  2. Whip out the sticky tape, scissors (parental guidance recommended), texters and paint

  3. Decorate and stick it all together to create your very own recycled robot

Not only is this activity amusing for everyone involved, but it reuses materials to promote living sustainably in your household. Don’t stress if it all goes pear-shaped. Let your youngster use the materials to make tunnels and towers, or any other creation they want instead. And when they’re done, they can be gifted to the grandparents! 

Thrifty Activity 3: Homemade Playdough

Playdough is terrific for early development and making your own playdough is perfect for when you’ve got an hour to kill and the weather is bad. It’s also MUCH cheaper than buying it from the shops. And if you get it right, it is so lurvely and soft. You can create your own playdough at home using basic ingredients you’ve probably already got in the pantry.

How-to:

  1. 1 cup flour

  2. 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  3. ¼ cup salt

  4. ½ cup warm water

  5. A few drops of food colouring

  6. Mix the dry ingredients together

  7. Add the oil

  8. Add food colouring to the water

  9. Add the water to the mixture and knead

They’ll love shaping their creations knowing they helped pick the colours and poured in the ingredients. See what fun objects they can create with their own little hands. 

Thrifty Activity 4: DIY Sensory Bins

A sensory bin is a container filled with materials, from sand and dry pasta to rice or beans, giving kids the chance to feel and play with these materials and textures in their hands. 

Picture the joy on a toddler's face as they dive their little hands into a container filled with rice (note to self…. you don’t need to cook it next time…), feeling the individual grains cascade through their tiny fingers. It’s honestly one of the easiest parenting hacks to entertain a child.

How-to:

  1. Grab a large container, mixing bowl or storage box like the Ikea Trofast box

  2. Fill it with dry pasta, beans, rice, sand, unpopped popcorn

  3. Add in spoons, scoops, craft feathers, figurines, small toys, funnels, pom poms 

Sensory bins are a fun and tactile (and super cheap) activity where kids can explore and discover the world through their sense of touch. 

Thrifty Activity 5: Homemade Musical Instruments

Who needs to buy high-priced musical instruments or pay for music lessons when you have all the kit you need in your very own kitchen?  

How-to:

  1. Grab the pots and pans and turn them into a drum kit for your mini Ringo

  2. Use wooden spoons (and metal ones if you’re brave) and let them go wild to their own sweet beats 

  3. If you’ve got half-filled containers of rice or pasta, use them as maracas and shake them all about

  4. Fill up glasses with various levels of water and tap them with spoons to create different notes and sounds

By letting your little musicians bang around in the kitchen, they’ll get to explore music in its purest form, enjoy cognitive benefits, boost their coordination and uncover their inner rockstar.  

Thrifty Activity 6: Nature Treasure Hunt

Whether it’s a walk down the street or a visit to a nearby park, nothing beats time spent in nature. Next time you’re out and about, give your child a list of things to find and watch them discover the great outdoors in a whole new way.  

How-to:

  1. Jot down items you’d like your child to find such as a pretty leaf, a dog, a pile of rocks, sticks, a butterfly or a purple flower

  2. Ask your child to think of things they might see as they go on their hunt and add them to the list

  3. Once outside, have your child try to find these items and see how many they can tick off.

Nature treasure hunts are a low-cost adventure that gets you all out of the house which is frankly just good for everyone’s mental health. We love these Australian scavenger hunt print outs to download for free.

Thrifty Activity 7: Join a Toy Swapping Group

I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Kids love toys, then they get bored of them, then they whinge that they need new toys, then we have a menty-B (= meltdown) trying to work out how to keep them happy (or at least quiet) and the whole thing is a hot mess with the whole family throwing the proverbial at the fan. 

Host a toy swap with friends or join a toy-swapping app like Sassybae where kids can get new toys by swapping out their old ones. Busy parents get some help to stay sane and save  money. Hip hip hooray, circular economy wins too!

Thrifty Activity 8: Join a Toy Library

While you’re on the waitlist for Sassybae, check out your local community Toy Library for a range of fun secondhand toys, puzzles and dress-ups. For an annual fee, you can access hundreds of toys to borrow, return and repeat.

Entertaining young kids on a budget isn't just about saving money; it's also about quality bonding time as a family. By embracing these thrifty activities, you can create beautiful memories without the hefty price tag. It’s always nice to be reminded that the best things in life are free.

Monique Tait

Monique Tait

Mothering . Wife . Founder . Chicken Wing Aficionado .

When she's not scouring the city for the best fried chicken joint, she's busy being a parenting superhero, starting with her new toy swapping app called Sassybae. Because let's be real, what better way to show your love for your kids than by swapping out their old toys for new ones? Monique is on a mission to make parenting easier, one wing and one toy at a time.

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