Instant Homemade Toy for Toddlers and Babies
Toys are great. We love toys in my house and I’ll freely admit we spend far too much time and money buying far too many toys for our kids. That said, when it comes to inspiring engaging play, I’ve found the tried and tested simple play opportunities provided by everyday household objects will keep our youngest sproglet absorbed just as long as any toy, and often even longer.
One of our favourites is, as we like to call it, the Hoop Tree. This is just a mug tree, loaded up with hoops that our curious toddler can take off… and put back on… and take off… and swap around… offering a seemingly endless source of fascination!
Curtain rings work fabulously for this as they are just the right size for her little hands to manipulate easily, and we can mix up some metal and some wooden rings for contrasting textures. Anything hoopish will do the job – I’ve improvised with bangles, hair bands, scrunchies and elastic bands, which all create different sensory experiences.
Hoop Tree Heuristic Play
This type of play is commonly referred to as heuristic play. This is a term that simply means ‘finding out through play.’ Babies and toddlers learn through all of their senses. And so by being given the opportunity to handle an object, they learn about texture, weight, colour, size, smell, sound and taste.
As she grows, T-bird has begun to do even more with the objects she handles. Playing with a hoop tree, for example, is a challenging test of balance and precision hand/eye co-ordination. She has had to learn to get the hoops onto the tree ‘branches’. In the process, she’s discovered how many can fit on a branch. And what happens when she tries to add too many.
She’s explored the noise the hoops make, and the feel of metal rings verses wooden. Our little T-bird will rearrange the hoops very precisely to some kind of internal logic that makes complete sense to her, even if we can’t see it. Woe betide mummy if she tries to help by putting any rings on… they will be removed and rearranged, and I’ll be told, gently but firmly, “no”.
Words and numbers practice
Any sort of absorbing play like this is also an opportunity to practice and extend vocabulary. While T-bird arranges the hoops, I’ll give a running commentary of phrases. We’ll say “put it on” and “take it off”. And we’ll repeat the key words such as “on” and “off” separately as well. We’ll talk about the object’s properties “wood”, “metal”, “smooth” “cold”, “round”.
We’ll also practice numbers and counting as she takes the hoops on and off. It hasn’t taken long for her to pick up on these. I’ll often hear her use them for her own commentary as she plays. So, for us, what has worked has been using a few words or phrases at a time. And repeating over and over and over again, then adding more as she has mastered them.
Have you put a hoop tree together for your baby? If so, you might like to check out Hoop Tree – All Washi’d Up! To see how we revamped our tree for new play and development opportunities.
A note about safety. Play with everyday non-toy objects has widely recognised benefits for babies and young children. However these kinds of activities should always be closely supervised. Use common sense to decide what you are comfortable letting your child handle. Decide for yourself what could be a hazard.
Hoop Tree Resources
Looking to set up a hoop tree for your little one? Amazon have plenty of options for the necessary bits, and you are bound to have plenty more around the house. To give you a starting point, here are a few I’ve found.
Product links in this article are all Amazon links to materials I used for this project. These are all affiliate links. You can find out more about what that means on my ‘about affiliate links’ page.
This cheap and cheerful KitchenCraft mug stand looks like it would be easy to paint, if you are so inclined. I like that the ‘branches’ are angled upright and have a stopper on the end to keep things from sliding off. Just right!
As well as the mug tree, with a simple kitchen towel holder you can create a vertical stacker for your child. This KitchenCraft paper towel holder is even cheaper than the mug tree, and would also be easy to add colour or pattern to, for colour/pattern matching games.
All types of hoops
Once you’ve got your mug tree and/or paper towel holder, you just need some rings to stack on ’em! Here are a few options to get you started.
These wooden rings are essentially curtain rings, but they come in different sizes and have no pre-drilled hole or hook. And as they are unvarnished, you can definately paint up these babies!
Brass curtain rings make a lovely alternative or addition to wood as they will offer your baby a completely different sensory experience. Make sure to get the ones like these that are completely smooth with no hook bit sticking out.
Try something a little different, like these bamboo circles. As they’re entirely natural, they will vary in size, shape and appearance, which will add interest for your baby.
I love this set of wooden napkin rings, that come in their own box too! These would be great for so many other activities too – stacking, rolling, decorating…
Don’t forget to raid your jewellery box for bangles! These solid stainless steel ones are great, but bangles of any sort work well, and offer a range of textures from leather to stone to wood and back to metal… just make sure there are no scratchy bits and any beads are strung on securely as these could be a choking hazard
More to Explore!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, why not check out our other ideas for activities for babies and toddlers?