Makeshift toys when you’re on the go

Almost anything can be a toy when you’re creative—and out of options

If you have a toy room in your home, you’ll probably face a dilemma when packing for travels with your child. Which toys should you bring, and how will you fit them in your carry-on (or diaper bag…or pockets?!). It’s difficult enough to get all the necessary items to fit in your luggage, even before you need to worry about extras like toys. What are you ever to do!

Our solution? Bring only a few cherished selections and let your new location become your child’s playground.

We’ve witnessed this firsthand over the past several months during our travels: no matter her age or environment, Eliza has seemed to be more creative when there are fewer toys within her reach—and often then the “toys” aren’t even toys at all. (If you’re doubtful, take a look at this research reported by Psychology Today, which backs up our claim.) As long as an object isn’t going to hurt her or, more likely, she can’t hurt it, we haven’t objected to her turning most anything into a toy. You read that right: we’ve found that almost anything can keep our 15-month-old occupied if we give her time and space to make a game out of it.

A few weeks ago, she found her way into her grandfather’s business cards. She happily sorted and moved them from one surface to another—her office, if you will. Last week, she moved the diaper bag into the middle of the room, sat on it, and pretended it was a pony. I even heard her make some neighhhh sounds, I kid you not.

This past week, she has gotten particularly excited about playing with produce—and, thankfully, not (usually) at the dinner table. Who knew that potatoes and carrots could bring one such joy outside of a mash or casserole? She rolled the onions on the floor, organized them on the couch, and even hid them beside her crib in the bedroom. I don’t know how long this particular phase will last, but I really enjoy watching her so thoroughly entertained while carrying these ingredients back and forth around the apartment, though we’ve certainly had to sweep up a few errant onion peels afterwards. One morning after breakfast Sean and Eliza played a game he coined “watch Eliza put spoons in a glass and take them out again, then put them aside before putting them in the glass all over again.” I think you probably can tell how that game is played.

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Let the great toy and vegetable sorting begin

The toys we have brought with us are ones that have been quite easy to pack: colorful stacking cups have been particularly long-lasting and we’re two months into a set of hexagonal connecting blocks that she likes to bop against each other. The only area where we’ve splurged is with books. Her grandparents have bought her a few, including touch-and-feel and indestructible favorites, and we’ve bought several of our own. They’re easy enough to stack together and fit in one of our backpacks, so we bring a few with us no matter where we’re going. When she’s not sneaking off into a corner with a book or clamoring for us to read one to her, she seems to be a fan of any bits of paper, including receipts and index cards.

Another game that has been a hit for a good few months, and remains as popular as ever, is “retrieve everything from Mommy’s purse one item at a time.” My keys and (tightly secured!) lip balm take center stage, though the thrill she gets from blindly putting her hand in my purse and seeing what comes out seems to be the most fun.

Many parents I’ve met are rightly nervous to travel with their kids, and there’s no question that the amount of items you’ll need and want to bring is much higher than when you’re traveling solo. But we’ve found this to be one area where a little creativity and minimal packing is fine, at least for short trips. That said, I’m already looking forward to crafting some D.I.Y. toys when she’s a little older. I mean, a portable activity kit? Is this for parents or their children, c’mon!

I’m sure there will come a day when Eliza requests more actual toys, and later down the line, a mobile phone and whatever else exists for her new “toys,” but for now, a few root vegetables and pieces of paper seem to be doing the trick just fine.

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