Free toys and fun activities for young children

Parents don’t need to spend fortunes on the latest trending toys or expensive games in order to encourage their child’s learning and cognitive development. In fact, some of the best toys and activities are those which allow open-ended play, these involve simple objects and materials, allowing the child’s imagination to invent the rest. Encouraging your young child to use their own creative ideas and motor skills to turn materials into a game, or to play make-believe around an object, really boosts their resourcefulness and ingenuity.

People joke about buying toys for children, who then immediately show more interest in the wrapping paper or the empty box than in the toy itself. Well, this does happen and there’s actually science behind it, because ‘free play’ is how children learned about the world around them long before the toy industry even existed. An empty box can be a spaceship or a pirate boat, it can be crushed, ripped, painted and turned upside down. A box is anything your child’s mind wants it to be.


Ideas and materials for free fun

  • Kids love to post stuff. Make envelopes out of rectangles of card, you can draw on stamps and fun addresses. Make a post box out of an old cardboard box and you can post and deliver your own letters and postcards.
  • Dress-up is always a winner. Next time you are going to throw out some old clothes, sheets or tea-towels consider how much fun could be had with a fancy-dress box. Oversized hats and shoes, even old sunglasses, can make for some hilarious results. Take selfies or use a mirror so they can see themselves.
  • Stuff old socks or tights with the wadding from an old pillow, or balled-up paper. Your little one will love making colourful snakes and caterpillars. Sock puppets are really brilliant fun too.
  • Fold newspaper into hats, boats and paper planes. You don’t need a degree in origami, just have fun with it, or look up the folding patterns online. You can decorate with pens or stickers.
  • The cardboard box can be transformed into almost anything with a little imagination. Depending on the size, cut holes to make windows or doors, or draw on certain elements. It can be a vehicle, a house, a robot… anything! Let your child use their own inspiration… as long as you do the cutting.
  • Outdoor play is good whenever possible, just going for a walk and pointing out all the red things or all the trees/birds/cars etc. Adapt, depending on where you are.
  • Kids love water play and fun water-based activities can also make bath time a lot easier. Filling up bottles and squirting the water or watching the bubbles come to the surface is always fascinating, just don’t forget the towels!
  • Recycle your plastic bottles by making a free bowling set. Fill the bottles with a little coloured water if you like… great if you have a hallway. (Idea courtesy of


The pioneering Cherry Bridge Station Early Learning & Childcare Centres in NSW use this sort of activity based ‘free play’ and ‘open-ended’ learning, mixed with a broad range of branded resources, to teach young children from 0-5 years of age. The dedicated educators have developed age-appropriate programs to take your child right into the school readiness stage.


Remember: Always check the safety and suitability of materials before giving to your child to play with.