Kids today can get virtually any plaything their little hearts desire by jumping online (either virtually via the Internet or by going old-school and standing in line at the local toy store). And yet, years ago, before mega toy stores and Internet shopping, kids found plenty of ways to entertain themselves. Children have been playing with rag dolls, slingshots, sewing cards,and wooden hoops with sticks since homesteaders parked their Conestogawagons on the prairies. Most of these playthings were made by either the kids themselves or the grown-ups who loved them. Even though we don’t have to make toys for kids anymore, there are still plenty of good reasons to make toys at home.

1. Making Toys Saves Money
As with most things in life, if you make your fun rather than buy it, you’ll save a few bucks. I’m not talking whittling wooden heirlooms from trees you fell on the back forty or building elaborate motorized models from an old radio you took apart (neither of which I’m savvy enough or patient enough to do). My family has a playroom filled with toys, most of which come from stores because either they were gifts or we decided they were worth the money. In this book, I’m talking mostly about replacing that cheap mass-manufactured junk (the kind that circulates through the toy store shelves, into our homes, and straight to the landfill when it breaks twenty-four seconds later) with stuff you can make yourself because fun doesn’t have to come in a box. Sometimes fun is a box. And boxes are cheap.

2. Making Toys Conserves Resources
Maybe you don’t mind the couple hundred bucks you might save if you
made propeller boats out of milk cartons and dolls out of old T-shirts. Then how about that tried-and-true recycling motto: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?
You probably already have everything lying around your house that I use in
this book and most of it you were going to chuck anyway. So why not make
something out of it first, then toss it after the kids have had some fun? At the end of the day, the more toys you make, the less plastic crapola ends up buried in the ground somewhere.

3. Making Toys Means Fewer Toxins in Your Home
Maybe you figure the trash can full of things you’d throw away wouldn’t
make that big of a difference to the earth when we’re all driving SUVs and
stinking up the environment anyway. Fair enough, but how about all the
reports of toxins in toys, from lead in the paint to BPA in the plastic to tiny magnets that kids might swallow? It’s enough to make me want to give my kids a wooden hoop and corncob doll to play with. So, if the safety of toys concerns you, then making toys out of food cartons and fabric, poster board and drinking straws might alleviate some of your worry.

4. Making Toys Is Fun
And if none of that resonates, then how about this: Half the fun of playing
with homemade toys is making them. If you’re already a crafty person or
you’d like to be more of one or if you want to raise kids to be creative and resourceful, then making toys is a simple, inexpensive, safe, and fun place to start. Understanding how to build the things we play with opens doors for imagination and innovation and ultimately teaches us how to entertain ourselves without always spending money.

For me there’s one reason that trumps all those others and that’s how my
kids respond to homemade toys. I’ve always been pretty crafty around the
house, but once I started working on this book and making most of the things my kids play with, an interesting thing happened. Now, instead of asking me to buy them toys, first they ask me if I can make them something. And sometimes when they’re bored, they skip the whining about how they don’t have any toys and instead they make something themselves. The first toy my five-year-old daughter made warmed my soul (warning: I will now brag about my child). She drew a picture of me on a wooden craft stick, then drew a picture of herself on a wooden hinged clothespin. She attached the clothespin to the top of the craft stick and said, “See, it’s me riding on your shoulders. Now I’m going to make Daddy.” I swooned with delight.

So, I like reasons 1, 2, and 3, but to be honest, I consider them merely perks to number 4. And all four reasons point to the biggest one of all: Making toys makes kids happy, which is what playing should be all about.