10 Unusual Items For Non-Toy Imaginative Play

It is truly amazing how imaginative kids can be, starting at a young age. When I see my preschooler and toddler playing pretend together with their toys, it just makes me smile. But when they also play pretend with everyday items in our house and can build entire stories and adventures out of ordinary things – I am blown away. It’s important to know you can use almost anything for non-toy imaginative play.

A lot of people will tell parents that kids will play with anything. Especially young children will be more interested in the boxes and wrapping of their toys than the toys themselves. I learned this first hand as a new mom when we visited my in-laws when my older daughter was still a baby crawling around. She wanted to be in the kitchen with us, so my mother in law gave her a Tupperware container and a wooden spoon. She was happily playing with those “toys” for hours.

This is especially important to remember as Christmas begins to loom around the corner and families start worrying about spending a fortune on toys for their kids. Just remember kids don’t need expensive toys to have fun, their imagination works with just about anything. This is especially true for younger children, who haven’t yet been influenced to want what all their friends want and have. Beyond Christmas, it’s good to know this for when you don’t have toys readily available, but need a little distraction for the little ones – for example, at a relative’s house or a restaurant.

Why is imaginative play important?

  • Healthy brain development
  • Enhances physical development
  • Encourages social interaction

10 unusual items kids can use for non-toy imaginative play – that won’t break the bank!

Cardboard boxes

Let them create airplanes, boats, and forts with leftover cardboard boxes.


Like when my mother in law gave my daughter a Tupperware container and a wooden spoon to play with, this can keep kids occupied for hours while you get things done in the kitchen.

Toilet paper rolls

You can create all kinds of fun crafts with toilet paper rolls. Here is one idea – Agent P craft.

Paper bags

Kids can make all kinds of things from paper bags – from puppets to lanterns.

Rocks, dirt, and sticks

Kids love to play outside. Create an outdoor kitchen and let them cook up anything their imaginations can think of.

Old t-shirts

You can use paint or even just a sharpie to change an old t-shirt into a fun play outfit.

Bubble wrap

Need I say more? Everyone loves playing with bubble wrap – young and old!


Letting kids play with their food is sometimes a good idea. Try some of these fun lunch ideas.

Sock puppets

Making puppets out of leftover socks (you know the ones left behind when the dryer eats the other one) is a great idea to get kids to use their imagination.

Anything in mommy’s wallet

I don’t know why, but my kid’s love to tear apart my wallet. They love playing with all my cards. They have even lost my library card once. But it does keep them busy for a while!


  • Stacey Roberson February 7, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    Our little guy LOVES cardboard boxes. He likes for us to cut holes in the sides where he can get his arms through and pretend he’s a rocket ship. Love these ideas!

  • Karen Jaras February 7, 2018 at 10:07 pm

    My twin grandchildren love to rampage my purse so I need to stock it each time I come over with 2 of everything because even the lipstick my granddaughter loves, my grandson wants one too. The Dollar Tree is a great place to stock up with goodies.

  • Brandon Sparks February 7, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    I know what you are saying. My little ones have always loved this stuff..

  • Jolene m Prince February 7, 2018 at 10:15 pm

    When my son was a toddler, we brought him some toy that came in a huge box, I don’t remember what. He was way more interested in the box the toy came in then the actual toy. Kids don’t need expensive toys to be happy and have fun.

  • Ryan Schenk February 8, 2018 at 1:32 am

    As I was growing up I used all kinds of weird stuff to play with. We did not have a whole lot of money and the smallest stuff goes a long way. The cups with the strings were our favorite.

  • Margaret S Porter February 8, 2018 at 6:51 am

    Great tips! Im going to make a box of these ideas for when the grandson visits

  • Michelle Murphy February 8, 2018 at 10:54 am

    We used all these growing up .

  • Jessi Housel February 12, 2018 at 9:37 am

    So true, there is nothing like bubble wrap and cardboard boxes! Great re-use ideas.

  • Angela February 18, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    Great tips!


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