The ultimate in inexpensive toys. A ball of yarn. The Boy will entertain himself for the better part of an afternoon with a little ball of yarn that I rolled for him out of some scraps. It came to be when I was maniacally trying to finish a baby afghan. The Boy thought it would be fun to pull on the ball of yarn so I was looking for anything to distract him while I worked. I pulled a small ball of leftover yarn out of my crocheting bag and he was smitten. Even now, months later, he will pull it out of the toy box and play. He throws it down the hall and chases it, pulls it along from the loose end and wraps it around furniture and other toys. I do keep a close eye on him to make sure it does not get wrapped around his neck.
Older kids might enjoy playing with yarn as well. It can be woven on your hands into a cats’ cradle or drawn through two paper cups to play ‘telephone.’ You can braid or knot it, make a lariat for a cowboy or a leash for a stuffed toy.
When your kids get crabby or bored with the usual toys, look around for everyday objects that might become fun, new toys.