As a stay at home mom to twin babies, I have a need both to keep them entertained and happy all day- and to do so on a budget. I am here to tell you that with a little creativity, it’s totally possible! Here are some of the little tricks I’ve used to entertain my boys and keep my sanity using a few open-ended toys, but mostly items from around the house. Some of these may seem obvious, but if you’re in as much of a sleep-deprived haze as I am, a reminder always helps!
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Baby Play Hack #1- Make a Fort!
Babies love forts! Maybe because the smaller enclosed space feels safer, maybe because they’re visually interesting and easy to fill with fun visual elements, but my babies have always been happiest in some sort of fort. When they were tiny it was our DIY Baby Stargazing Box, but as they got older I started using our Fort Magic kit to make them play forts with different elements (find out how we started using it as a baby gym in this post: Fort Magic Baby Gym!) If you don’t have a fort kit, you can always use cardboard boxes or hang some sheets from furniture. Of course, make sure your fort is safe and there’s no way they can pull the blankets down on themselves! We have (and love!) this teepee baby gym, but it doesn’t compare to making your own bespoke fort!
Our baby play forts feel cozy and fun. The one above has some of our Tummy time play mats (more on those below) and some ribbons and links hanging from one of the bars for little hands to pull on- a guaranteed baby crowd pleaser! (The background of the fort is this starry sky tapestry that I bought as a cheaper alternative to play silk!)
(I should note that these links were THE most useful toy from the time my babies started grabbing at things until they learned to sit up. We had them hanging from their forts, their baby gyms, their car seats, strollers, you name it! They can be used to hang other toys, but they were fun just by themselves as well!)
You can also get creative with lighting in baby play forts- I wove a strand of Christmas lights around the top of this one, and it was an incredibly cozy place to play before bed in the evenings!
Baby Play Hack #2- Diaper boxes make cozy seats!
There’s an awkward stage around six months when babies can sit up with support, but not yet on their own. It’s so short lived that I really didn’t want to buy a bumbo seat or anything similar, only to store it away a few weeks later. So… enter the diaper box! Lined with a towel, it makes a great spot for baby to sit, supported on three sides. I’d suggest putting it against or near a wall so it won’t topple backwards, putting the baby in, then filling the box in front of their legs with a variety of toys- and they should be set for a while! As a plus, “baby in a box” makes for some super cute pictures!
(This baby seat was a favorite part of our play fort)
Baby Play Hack #3- Make a Magnetic Tray Table
I found that a big issue around 8 months was that whenever my boys tried to grab a toy, they tended to push it farther out of their reach. They already loved sitting on the floor and playing at a little lap desk I had, that was just the right size, but they were getting frustrated by how difficult it was to grab things.
To solve this problem, I took our biggest cookie sheet and taped it to the lap desk (upside down so the lip wouldn’t get in their way) and added some of our magformers! Now the magnets held the toys in place and they were easy for the boys to grab. This was their favorite activity for quite a long time!
(I found magformers to be a great toy at this age because their designs are open in the middle, making them easy for little hands to grab. The company recommends them for ages 3+ because magnets are dangerous if ingested. I felt like they were sturdy and wasn’t personally worried about them falling apart and the magnets coming out, and my boys always used them with supervision. Whether you feel they are safe is your personal decision to make. Please see my safety disclosure here for more information).
Baby Play Hack #4- Contact Paper!
Contact paper is a really fun and versatile tool for baby play. Used sticky side down, it covers things and makes them easy to clean and waterproof- a win! Check out my post on Colorful Play Mats: a Fun Way to Encourage Tummy Time to see how awesome contact paper can be!
Used sticky-side up, contact paper is a whole new dimension of fun! Tape a piece to a wall, window, or glass door with some painter’s tape, and stick some lightweight toys to it (we used these foam blocks). Your baby will enjoy touching the sticky surface, grabbing toys that are stuck there, or adding some of their own!
Baby Play Hack #5- Ziplock bags are your friend
I love using ziplock bags to let my babies safely explore things that would otherwise be choking hazards. Here’s an example- pom poms and water in a ziplock, taped to our DIY Light Table.
We’ve tried it on our glass door too- making the same activity vertical makes it feel exciting and new!
If you search “Sensory Bags” on Pinterest, you should be able to find a million other ideas for things you can put in a ziplock!
(If you’re feeling really fancy, you can try making a Squishy, Colorful Sensory Board!)
You can also use ziplock bags for baby-safe NO MESS painting projects! Just use some painter’s tape to make a design on a piece of paper or cardstock (such as the first letter of your child’s name) and dab some tempera paint along the lines.
Carefully slide the paper into a ziplock bag (with gallon size bags, you may need to trim the bottom to make it fit properly)
Seal it tightly, gently squeezing out as much air as possible, then give it to your baby and let them squish the paint all around!
As soon as your baby is done squishing, take the paper out and put it somewhere safe to dry. Once it’s dry, you can carefully peel back the tape to reveal your design!
Baby Play Hack #6- Containers!
Much like ziplock bags, you can put potential choking hazards in containers to make them safe for your baby to explore!
(This set is full of acrylic gems, but any exciting small object will do. Just make sure your containers are securely closed! If you’re not planning on reusing them, you can always use a little superglue to permanently seal them.)
Old baby bottles are great for this! Check out this post for more ways to turn them into toys; Baby Bottle Rainbow Rattles and Glitter Jars
Baby Play Hack #7- Water Play!
Water play with babies is super fun, and can be an awesome way to encourage tummy time! I just fill a casserole dish about 1/3 of the way with warm water, then put two boppies next to it so the twins can lie on their tummies (resting on the boppy) and reach into the water. I add a few small plastic toys like links for them to explore when and if they get tired of splashing!
Yes, this activity can potentially be a little messy, but if you plan it right it’s quite manageable. I put a large folded towel down on the floor before we start, and it contains most of the drips. I know that their clothes will get wet, so I plan this activity for right after breakfast when I would be about to change them out of their pajamas anyway. They play for a while, then get dry clothes. Rinsing our the dish when we’re done is quick and easy! This activity is definitely worth the effort, they love it so much, and splashing in water is a great learning experience at this age.
Baby Play Hack #8- Make a Sensory Box!
A sensory play box doesn’t need to be super crafty or super fancy- basically, you’re just taking a cardboard box and gluing on different things with a variety of textures for your baby to explore. I made ours when my babies were still only lying down, so they started out using bare feet to explore. Once they could sit up they were excited to feel all the different textures with their hands.
Sensory boxes cost almost nothing to make and remain exciting for a surprisingly long time. We’ve had ours for about four months and it still gets regular use (and has held up perfectly!)
For more detailed directions and ideas for other features you can add, check out: DIY Sensory Play Box for Babies
If you want to be REALLY fancy and add lights to your sensory box, you can make one of these: DIY Baby Stargazing Box.
Baby Play Hack #9- Make some noise!
Babies are so excited to investigate cause and effect, so anything that allows them to make noise is really interesting to them!
In a house full of toys, the twins’ absolute favorite thing to do right now is hold some old tea tins up to their mouths and yell into them to hear the echo.
Banging on pots and pans or shaking some rattles are also guaranteed baby pleasers. Once they’ve mastered using a stick to bang, you can let them try all sorts of “drums” to explore the noises they can make!
Baby Play Hack #10- Waft a Blanket
This is probably the simplest activity on this list, but also the most effective. Lay your baby on the floor on their back, take a lightweight blanket or scarf (muslin swaddles are the best for this) shake it over the baby’s head, and let it gently waft down. Let them wriggle around under it for a few seconds, then lift it back into the air and say “peekaboo!” Or “there you are!” or whatever. It sounds silly and obvious, but this little game works wonders when your baby is bored, or cranky, or even on the verge of a nuclear meltdown. I can count several times that I’ve run to take a shower a little too close to a feeding, and come downstairs to find my husband desperately wafting a blanket over both twins because it was the only way to keep them from crying!
Playing mini versions of this game is a great way to keep babies entertained while you’re folding laundry, too!
Hopefully these simple ideas will help you and your baby find new ways to enjoy playing together!
And if not? You can always just dump the contents of your Tupperware drawer in front of the baby and let them go nuts. That one never fails.
What’s your favorite way to play with your baby?
Leave a comment and let me know!
Of course, the best way to spend time with your baby is reading together! Make sure to check out my list of Bouncy Board Books that Babies will Love!
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