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Homemade Toys: Safe, Inexpensive and Wonderful

Updated on February 1, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Toy Manufacturers Are Sometimes Negligent

With the recall of over 1.5 million toys by Mattel there is a new concern for the safety of toys. After all, these are found in every household that has a child, and many that do not. Nearly, if not all, every school, preschool, day care, hospital and doctors office have a collection of toys on the premises. Like everything, with most manufacturers profits are the main thing so they use outsourcing to countries where workers make the toys for pennies a day.

Many of these countries do not implement the safeguards that the United States does and so we have huge recalls, small recalls and recalls of recalls. This time it was for lead in the paint. In prior recalls there have been toys that do not work properly and pose a threat, toys that were designed badly and pose a threat, toys that break under normal use...and pose a threat. The maddening thing is that these toys are often not only badly made but overpriced as well.

My son and his marshmallow gun
My son and his marshmallow gun

Homemade Toys Are Special

Homemade toys have amused children and caught their imaginations for generations. Not needing batteries, or electrical sources, with no video screen or techno-music things like rag dolls and wooden cars have created imaginary worlds and hours of creative fun. With the concerns of lead and other dangers in commercially produced toys, homemade toys are a great alternative.

There are literally thousands of instructions for making everything from marshmallow shooters to rag dolls on the Internet, so this is by no means an all inclusive list but rather a starting point and jumping off place for your own imagination and needs. Often there is not that much skill needed - just love and a desire to make a child happy.

If you find that you enjoy making toys consider making them to donate to your local children's hospital or police department. When my son was 2 years old he nearly died from a retropharyngeal abscess that was not discovered until nearly too late. As he was being rushed around the emergency room having MRIs and other tests and exams a volunteer came by with a smile and a stuffed animal for him to keep. It was not much to look at - little cat shape made from bright fabric scraps with permanent marker eyes, nose and mouth.Do you know, he still sleeps with that cat, four years later, and I bless the hands that made it every time I see it because It was a comfort to him during a very scary time.

Making Your Own Toys

Here are some ideas to get you started. Some require little skill some require more. All are guaranteed to bring hours of fun tot he lucky recipients!

1.Jump rope- This can be as simple as getting a length of clothesline and making large knots in the ends for handles. You can get the big wooden beads (unpainted) at craft stores with large opening s and paint them yourself. Then feed the rope through them for a weighted jump-rope.

2. Bean bags. These can be sewn from various fabrics from denim (old jeans) to cotton flannel (old shirts!). Cut 2 squares, sew right sides together around 3 sides and turn right side out. Fill with beans or rice and close.

3. Wooden puzzles- This takes a bit of skill with a jig saw. Cut a 12" by 12" square from plywood. Either paint your own picture on it or decoupage a printed picture on it. Let dry completely and then with a jigsaw cut picture into shapes. Be sure and coat the pieces with a 0 VOC child safe varnish.

4. Checkerboard- Cut a large square of plywood and paint the checkerboard on it using a stencil for best results. Use something for checkers, making sure that there are two definite groups of checkers that can be sorted by color, size, or type. Some of my favorite checkers materials are polished stones/rough stones, red buttons/black buttons, walnuts/pecans. Use your imagination. This makes a wonderful toy!

5. Marbles- Make your own from clay. use different colors and experiment with different techniques.

6. Transform an egg carton into a mancala board and use pebbles for playing pieces.

7. Newspaper kites- I spent many happy days in my childhood flying kites. Watching them soar in the clouds is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

8. Matching Cards- Use 3x5 cards and glue pictures to them. You could use old magazines to have things like parent animals/baby animals, or animal homes/animals, or artists/painting. After you have made the cards, laminate them so they will last a long time.

9.Dominoes- cute rectangles of wood in the desired size and paint the dots on with low voc child safe paints OR burn them on with a wood burner.

10.A favorite of my children is a game I picked up for road trips. It is a clear cylinder with small beads in it and small items placed in the beads. There is a list of things that they need to find. The same thing can be accomplished with a Wide mouth mason Jar and a mixture of dried beans/rice and some items from around the house like pennies, eraser toys, etc.

11. A Yoyo- these are fun to use and fun to make! Try different sizes until you find exactly what you like.

12. A Marshmallow Gun- These are everywhere it seems. Better than nerf because you can eat your opponent's artillery

13. PVC Musical Instruments...You can make many things from pvc pipe. Try making a flute or a xylophone

14. A Fishing Game -cut out paper fish and laminate them.Attach paperclips to the mouth area. Make a fishing pole from a long thin stick, a string and a magnet. If it is for a child under the age of 3 please be sure the magnet is big enough that it cannot be swallowed!

15. A rag doll- These can be made in a variety of ways and are always well received!

16. Felt food- use bits of felt and stuffing to create cookies, cakes, breads, and other pretend foods.

17. Swing- Have you ever swung on a rope or tie swing hung from a huge old tree? Allow your child to have the same wonderful memories

18. Blocks- when I was small I remember spending a few days with my grandparents. They had no toys and I was very bored until my grandfather spent a morning in his workshop and presented me with a box of blocks that he had created in wonderfully exotic shapes.

19 . Puppet

20. Weaving loom- make a weaving loom by using a frame and nailing finishing nails spaced evenly along the top and bottom.

21.Playdough- homemade playdough is easy and you can make scented playdough by coloring it with koolaide powder! Be sure to use the traditional unsweetened kind in an envelope that you add sugar to. You can also use gel food colors.

Here is a recipe that I use:

7-8 cups flour

3 cups salt

3 tablespoons cream of tartar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

4 cups hot water

Mix seven cups of flour together with the salt and cream of tartar in the bowlof a mixer.

Mix in the oil and water

Knead for 10 minutes

Add more flour to get a soft, workable dough.

Store the dough in a sealed container to keep it from becoming dry.

22. Sorting Toys- Make a sorting toy by filling baby food jars or other small containters with objects to be sorted by color or size, shape or type

This checkers game is from
This checkers game is from

How to Make a Marshmallow Gun

The following video is from Polar Bear on Youtube. it is not my video, nor was it made with any input from me. It is posted here merely as a resource that compliments this article.

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is imperative when making gifts. If you will be making toys as Christmas gifts choose your projects and create a schedule by the end of september so you will have plenty of time to finish. Always be sure the toys you make are child safe and made with suitable materials. A google search of homemade toys, homemade gifts, or homemade toys for children will produce a myriad of ideas and instructions. Most of all just have fun with it.

Homemade toys are good for your budget and good for the environment. Use recycled materials when you can!


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I think you should make star wars toys for boys or something for American girl for the girls. That's what I'm doing.

    • profile image

      Polar Bear 

      6 years ago

      Just clicking around on my youtube and discovered you've used my video in your article here! I'm not concerned but it'd be nice if you mentioned it was a clip you found on youtube and is not related to you or your pages.

    • Ruchi Urvashi profile image

      Ruchi Urvashi 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Very creative work. I might try these tips. It is excellent hub. Thanks.

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      6 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      No you do not. My articles may not be reprinted. Thank you

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Well good... one i need a permission to put this article on my website at but it'll be in bahasa language.. is it ok for you, thanks

    • lex123 profile image


      7 years ago

      Brilliant ideas for home made toys! Thanks for sharing these tips.

    • profile image

      Ben 10 toys 

      7 years ago

      You've got a pretty comprehensive set of ideas here. I find puppets are always good fun, you can make up a story and do a bit of imaginative role play!

      I'll also be using your playdough recipe for sure.

    • wingedcentaur profile image

      William Thomas 

      8 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      I had been concerned about the effects of an overconcentration of advertising directed at children and the cognitively and intellectually harmful effect of various, so-called "educational" electronic, video games always being pushed on them; as well as all the rest of the superfluous technology pushed at them. What six-year old needs a cell phone?!

      I share your point of view that often old-fashioned is the best (blocks, pogo sticks, checkers, marbles,etc), because these things require an infusion of imagination from the child to make them function at their best.

      Anyway, I had forgotten that we even have to look out for imported old fashioned toys -- often coming, as they do, from the developing world where wages, working conditions and safety standards are nothing to speak of.

      Anyhoo -- homemade, old fashioned toys are the best. Great article, Marye Audet. By the way, that's an adorable picture of your son with his marshmallow gun.

      Is he going to shoot the cookie monster? Nice hub, thanks.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      great ideas....although I wouldn't use PVC pipe for things like a flute just because I'm not sure a child should put vinyl or anything that might have chloride fumes near their face

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      LOL! art lovers

    • muratos profile image


      9 years ago from Moscow

      Excellent well written article about homemade toys. Congratulations.

    • febriedethan profile image


      9 years ago from Indonesia

      Fabulous ideas about homemade toys. When I was a kid, my granny used to makes me some cloth dolls. This hub gives a grasp of memory from my childhood. I love it, thank's :) I have one hub that related to toys too, I hope you'd like to read it..:)

    • thelesleyshow profile image


      9 years ago from US

      What a fabulous hub! I wish this place was like Squidoo so I could roll this over to my hubpage. There's no way to do that on hubpages is there? That's too bad because there are so many great hubs I would love to link to mine. This being one of them. A HUGE thumbs up!!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My site is hosting the Bill Ding pattern referenced above. It's amazing how many hits I get on that plan. I originally posted it as a favour for someone in the rec.wooodworking newsgroup several years ago. I hat to think what would happen if I was to take it down!

    • Willow Sidhe profile image

      Willow Sidhe 

      9 years ago

      What wonderful ideas! We always had homemade toys when I was little, and I will make toys for my children as well. There's something more wholesome and special about creating something with your hands, rather than buying it thoughtlessly at a toy store. Thanks for the great information!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      What finish/varnish is considered " child safe" for toys?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks, those are all great ideas. However, I wouldn't use PVC pipes for toys as they are notorious for leaching lead and other bad chemicals. Especially, I wouldn't recommend making flutes out of PVC, or eating the marshmallows after they've been fired from a PVC marshmallow gun.

    • nightcats profile image

      June Campbell 

      9 years ago from North Vancouver

      Great lens. I love hand made anythings and handmade toys are really special.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 

      9 years ago from Jaipur

      You have rightly raised the question of Chinease toys. They are manufacturing cheap, cheap and cheap forgetting everything else.

      Home made?


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Thank you. All is miraculously.

    • robindarleen profile image


      10 years ago

      my son loves the marshmallow gun .he paid 10 at our local parade so he would have thank you for the ideas.

    • profile image

      The Rev'd oonagh Ryan-King 

      10 years ago

      Hi, we live in Panama, the Republic, not Florida. Our housekeeper's two grandbabies (both wonderful girls, ages one and three) need great toys. You are such an inspiration. As their grandmother sews, she'll be joining me in making all sorts of toys for her babies and the children of the local Ngobe-Bugle community. Thank you so very much. oonie

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Dave! I used to play with those! Thanks!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      for some reason, the word "and" is included on the link above. the correct link is:

      that should be better now. (I hope)


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      My favorite block toy (for all ages) is the "Bill Ding" balancing clown blocks. They're originally from the early 1930s, so there's no worries about copyrights anymore. for full size plans, go to and download the article and pattern from Workbench Magazine.

      I've made several sets, and they are VERY cool.

      If you prefer to purchase, just google Bill Ding Blocks, and a couple of manufacturers come up.

      Good Luck,


    • Jennifer profile image


      10 years ago

      Great ideas!

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      LOL! JAck of all trades, master of none I am afraid. Homesteading is one of those areas you dabble in quite a lot. :) Thank you for the compliment though!

    • cgull8m profile image


      10 years ago from North Carolina

      Marye, I hope you write a book soon, you have a ton of information. Regarding toys it is true, there is too much danger and wastage also, it is not good for the environment. Home made and reusuable stuff will really help.


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