7 nearly free toys your child will love

It seems these days that toddlers and young children everywhere suffer from TMTS, or Too Many Toys Syndrome. Between birthdays and holidays and grandparents who mean well and over-the-top party favors, your little ones may be drowning in excessive amounts of things that light up, make noise, and let’s be real: collect dust after about one week.

With that in mind, if you need to find the perfect gift for your child, check out our list of the best “free” gifts that little people might appreciate. While it’s true some of these may cost some money, they are not the usual “toy” gifts in the traditional sense, and may help you avoid more exposure to TMTS.

1. An experience—Instead of buying yet another action figure or train or doll that will soon get lost at the bottom of the toy box, consider giving the gift of an experience. Make a gift certificate for a day at your child’s favorite museum, park, or aquarium. Let the day be special, like letting the child choose what they do there or you supply a picnic. Take pictures and make a scrap book or shadow box to have something tangible afterwards to remember it by.

2. Time—This is something that can be really special for children with siblings, or for those whose parents work long hours. Set aside one whole day (or maybe even an overnight or weekend if the schedule allows) where it’s just you and your kid. Maybe you’ll complete a special project, or go for a hike and some camping. Whatever it is, the point is that your child gets to have you be present (put down those smartphones!) and feel like you are 100 percent focused on them.

3. A “date” night—Kids love to feel like they are adults sometimes, so having a night where you do a special dinner and a movie for just the two of you can let them feel like a grown-up. You might even want to pick a nice place—they might rise to the occasion and surprise you!

4. Make a memory game—Print out some photos of your family, laminate, and make your own personalized version of the memory game. Spending the time to play it together lets you give a little of gift idea #2 as well.

5. Inside camp out—There is nothing some kids love more than getting to sleep somewhere else—that’s what makes sleepovers so fun! Why not bust out the tent and camp in your backyard or living room? You can get as creative as you want with this one, or keep it simple and put out some sleeping bags and make it a movie-night-turned-slumber-party in the living room.

6. Something homemade—If you are crafty (or have access to Pinterest), you can easily whip up something homemade for your child that they might treasure more than a store-bought gift. Ideas include dyed pasta to make stringed necklaces, homemade playdough, or a bin of colored rice that can become a fun sensory bin.

7. Let them play parent for the day—This can be really fun. Tell your child they get to be the parent for the whole day (of course, you’ll still drive…). They get to pick the food, the outings, and be in charge. Of course you may need to have some veto power or some ground rules, but it can be pretty hilarious to watch how a child views the job of Mom or Dad! And it may make them appreciate more what you do in the long run.

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Medical Director, Pregnancy

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician at a tertiary-care hospital in northeastern Pennsylvania. She spends the majority of her time on labor and delivery, but manages to fit in some outpatient clinic and operating time.


    1. Have fun trying them! I can’t wait to do backyard camping with my son, as I know it will be a huge hit – and cost nothing 😉


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