We know that buying your children toys for the holidays is inevitable, but how refreshing is it to realize what good play really requires, and how it doesn’t need to cost much more than a few bucks that you’ve already spent. We have a great piece here by regular contributor Jocelyn Greene from Child’s Play NY about toys you have around your apartment that inspire dramatic and highly fun-filled play, enjoy!

These days my recycling bin is filled with toy catalogues. ‘Tis the season for every kid-centric-company to let me know how awesome their products are for my little scientist, builder or artist.  And I’m super guilty of lots of circling…and clicking!

Then this week we had a playdate at our friend’s house.  The kids built a fort using sheets, binder clips and rope…Best. Playdate. Ever.

Remember when your baby just needed a wire whisk and was happy? Here’s the good news:  We can actually find the equivalent of that whisk for kids ages 3 and up in stuff around our house.  So in a sort-of anti-holiday-consumer-moment, I’ve brainstormed a list of tools that double as toys – and some games to play with each. Kids love getting mixed up in our grown-up stuff anyway.  This way you can give them permission to use a tool of yours…as a toy!

1) Flashlights:  Now that afternoons are so dark, bust out the flashlights on playdates – and especially sleep-overs – to create a cool ambiance.

Play Going on A Bear Hunt with the flashlight. Watch this week’s video to see how.  Dr Aliza Pressman of Seedlings Group explains why it helps kids with tricky language concepts.  This game also helps kids face their fears.  Sub out the word “bear” for any other possibly scary thing-of-the-moment (like monsters or dragons). It is an infectious courage-booster and fosters amazing team work.

Play Laser Tag to rousing music.

Design shadow puppets with paper (if you want to get some scissor-practice) or with your fingers!

Create a pretend campfire, light up your face from under with the flashlight, and use Story Clap to tell a spooky story!

2) Sheets: Queen/King size works best – get a spare set just for this purpose!

Fort Time: Move sofas around, stack pillows and drape sheets over, hang from clothespins – use imagination and re-design your space (temporarily!). It is a real act of generosity to move your own grown-up furniture around and kids appreciate the break from routine.  Have your dustbuster handy since some dust-bunnies can be uncovered in the process!

Play Picnic: Spread a sheet on the floor and play the memory game “Going on a Picnic”, or make a stew of incredible ingredients to power you up for the next adventure.

Make a cape: use a binder clip to attach at the neck to make a regal robe or a superhero cape.

Play Animal Yoga on the sheet!

3) Tin Foil: This is great for fine-motor sculpting skills, especially when the Playdoh is a little dry!  Playing around with tin-foil is a real imagination-activator.

Sculpt crowns, cuffs or wands and then have a fashion show.

Create a foil-animal zoo (googely eyes and pipe-cleaner tails also help) – name your menagerie and give them shape-shifting powers.

4) Tape: Whether it’s masking tape or painter’s tape, this is an indispensable (and often overlooked) toy-tool.  It really changes the space and thankfully comes right up from the wall or floor when playtime is over!

Create an Obstacle Course – have each mark on the floor – circle, lines, zig-zags, mean something different.  Kids will need to use those executive functioning skills to remember what each symbol stands for and what move to do on it!  Use fun music and kids will feel inspired to dance through the course and get a great workout too!

Play a giant game of tic-tac-toe.

Make a big spider-web – String it through your hallway, and set it up so kids have to go over and under so as to not to get stuck on the tape!

Use it to mark out a square on the ground and play Magical Elevator.

So you’ve already got this stuff in junk-drawer or hall closet…no need to click “add to cart.”  Just feel confident that we already have the tools for play…giving kids that open-ended, rough and tumble, release into fantasy that they need for both joy and development.  Go ahead and recycle those toy catalogues and gift wrap your flashlight (I dare you!). Chime in on the blog and let me know your favorite toy-tool.

Jocelyn Greene is a Brooklyn based educator, director, and mom. With her company, Child’s Play NY, she teaches hundreds of kids a year and partners with the top-tier schools in NYC to bring theater into their classrooms. She is equally joyous adapting fairy tales for 4s as she is staging Shakespeare with the teens, but she mostly loves playing at home with her son.  Subscribe to the Child’s Play in Action You Tube channel to never miss a game. Winter theater classes with Child’s Play NY are enrolling now for ages 3-14.