At the risk of sounding all "I'm old as heck" or "la dee dah, I'm pious and pretentious," sometimes I get really annoyed at the toys. 75 years ago, kids were pushing a hoop with a stick for hours, and that was an incredibly viable pastime. It seems like pretty much everything on the market these days either lights up or makes noise, maybe even has a computer chip in it. It's not like we refuse to let Pickle play with any of that, I just try to temper it a little bit.
We also really like encouraging pretend play and a healthy imagination, so we'll sometimes MacGyver toys from junk we have around the house. Or sometimes we will do this more because we do not want to leave the house or spend extra money, and less to do with ideology. Basically we just sort of try to tailor a craft or a project to whatever her current interest is. There is no way that these are Pinterest-worthy ideas that are super-cute, these are just things that will keep a toddler/preschooler busy for a few hours.
For example, she was pretty obsessed with Little Red Riding Hood for most of the past year and a half. For last Christmas her grandmother actually made her a gorgeous red velvet cape, but we made her little pink receiving blanket work for a while:
(Little Pink Riding Hood)
She walked around with that on her head for a solid month and a half - but that's only her MacGyvered costume. She would have J and I take turns being Grandma - since we didn't have a wig or anything, she had us don a pompom she'd received as part of a cheerleading costume as hair, a Dora blanket, and put a poncho she'd received as a gift at our necks like a scarf:
We would then pretend to be sick and really want some cookies and flowers. And you know what? That stuff is awesome, because it brought her so much joy. She had little baskets into which she would put pretend cakes, I bought her a little bouquet of flowers from Wal-Mart, and we had a whole scene to play.
She was obsessed with lots of fairy tales during this time, such as Jack and the Beanstalk. (But we would rework all of these fairy tales to not include death and everything/everyone being eaten by something bigger/angrier.) She really, really wanted to climb a beanstalk. First we got some glitter glue and painted some big lima beans to be her "magic beans," and then I fashioned her a beanstalk:
This literally could not be easier to make. You need a pool noodle, some construction paper, some tape, a Sharpie, and some scissors. Most parents have all of that (other than possibly the pool noodle) hanging around the house. Make some leaves on the construction paper with the Sharpie, cut them out, tape them on the pool noodle. (We got extra points for Pickle decorating the leaves with green markers.) Instant beanstalk! I have no idea how to ninja together a magical harp, so that's as far as we were able to go with this scenario. Anyway - we designed this over six months ago, and she still plays with it constantly. She likes to pretend to climb it by standing on the couch, and it cost a grand total of, like, $1.50.
I mentioned glitter glue previously, right? That crap is like crack to little kids. You have nothing around the house but some old socks and some glitter glue? Instant craft! Snowed in and just have a paper plate and some glitter glue? Make a mask! We had an old, small birdhouse in the garage - it wasn't riddled with lice or anything, it had never been used, I'm not sure why we had it. We also had some glitter glue and stick-on jewels - this was two days' worth of fun:
It provided even MORE fun later when she picked off each of the adhesive jewels and hid them inside different potted plants around the house.
One time when we lived in the townhouse, Pickle wanted to go sledding, but we didn't have a yard or anything - so we just took a printer cable and an empty cardboard box and made an indoor sled:
She had me drag her around in this contraption for an hour. My arms were cramping up from pulling around 30 lbs of toddler, but she had a BLAST.
I guess the point of this post was mostly just to say that, while I love finding great toys and games for Pickle, some of the things that give her more joy than anything else are just the little things we throw together with what we have on hand.