Fun Games You Can Play Without Toys

Why you might want to know some games you can play without toys…

Today we’re going to talk about both the benefits of toy-free play and a variety of games you can play without toys. 

My husband and I are rather minimalist, so we encourage our family to limit the number of physical gifts they buy for our son. If he gets a new toy, then we are quickly finding some toys to donate or store in the attic. 

Our son is going to hate us when he realizes what’s happening.

We not only like the cleanliness of having minimal toys, but also the benefits of having to engage with fewer options. With very few toys, our play has to be more creative and interesting to keep everyone engaged.

What are the Best Toys for Speech and Language Development?

Right now it is October and many of my friends are asking for Christmas gift ideas. Of course, I have some preferred toys, but I want to highlight games you can play without toys today. Next time we can talk about physical toys that I like the best.

Why I love People Games

Unlike playing with toys, playing games with people requires your child to solely rely on social cues. When you play peek-a-boo, they begin to understand that you are still there even when your face isn’t visible.

Unlike playing with talking and singing stuffed animals, when you play “I’m going to get you,” you can judge your child’s reaction and pace the game according to their individual needs.

While I prefer toy-free or minimal toy play, I’m not anti messy playrooms. If your basement or playroom is stocked with toys, I see you and I get it. The next time you are caught out and about without anything for your toddler to do, try these games. They travel well.

A Brief Note About Parent Mental Health and Play

Right now some challenges might make it hard for you to spend this time with your child. I want to be sensitive to the fact that we’re experiencing a significant increase in depression and anxiety globally. These mental health challenges can make spending time alone with your child laborious and exhausting. If this is your situation, you are not alone. I was here a few months ago and I highly recommend that you reach out to a therapist and seek out support. You are certainly not alone in these struggles during these challenging times.

4 Different Games without Toys to Try Today

If you feel that you are ready to spend some quality time with your baby, regardless of how old they are, then let’s keep going. Check out these games you can play without toys.


The first game is a classic and won’t be a surprise to anyone: Peek-a-boo. 

There are many ways to play peek-a-boo. You can hide your face behind your hands or a blanket. You can hide around the corner or behind some furniture. Maybe you build a fort out of the pillows from your couch and then jump out from behind them. 

This game is fun because it helps you to practice turn-taking in a very fun and engaging way. 

One of the ways that I make it easier for children with limited speech skills is that I pause at a specific moment. I say Peek….a…. And then I wait. My goal is for them to say “boo.” 

When we first had our son, my husband laughed at me for being “weird” about Peek-a-boo. Why do I do it? Because saying “boo” is certainly a lot easier than saying peekaboo. 

If your child can easily say “peek-a-boo” then go ahead and let them say the whole thing. But if your child is still an early talker and they have a hard time with longer words, then certainly shorten it up and accept anything they say.

For some of my students with complicated communication profiles, I’ve accepted simple movements as participation in the peekaboo game. Maybe your child isn’t forming any words yet. In this case, you can say “peek-a….” and wait for any movement or a smile. That’s when they take their turn. That’s when the magic happens.

Slow Motion and Repeat!

Similar to Peekaboo I like to play a very simple cause and effect game. I explained this to one of my friends’ daughters recently when they came over for a visit with two babies in one house. She was trying to play with the babies, but her playstyle was too complicated and overwhelming. The babies were staring at her with wide eyes. 

I explained to her that playing with babies can be quite simple. If you say the same thing slowly over and over, they start to anticipate what you’re going to do

For example, when I’m playing with a new baby I might click my tongue as I tap my fingers up their arm or leg in a walking motion. When I “walk” my fingers to their nose I say “boop!” Typically they look at me with confusion. Then I do it again slower.

I click my tongue and walk my fingers up to their nose. I hover my finger above their nose and wait. Just like when we were playing peek-a-boo, I wait for any sign that they want me to keep going. And then I see it. A little crack of the corner of their mouth or a small smile and I give their nose a “boop!”

I do it a third time and this time I’m really looking for them to take control of some of the communication. I click my tongue and walk my fingers up their legs and hover my finger above their nose. Do you know what many babies will do in this situation? They lean forward to keep the fun going.

When they lean forward to touch my finger with their nose, I excitedly shout “Boop!”

Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

I’m Going to Get You!

One of my favorite games to play with an older toddler is “I’m going to get you.” My son adores this game. He also adores running to his dad as if Mom is a huge scary monster. He hides behind my husband’s legs and screams “up! up!” 

The “I’m going to get you” game can take many different forms. Sometimes I “get” my son with the little kiss on the cheek. Sometimes I “get” him by poking him with a stick outside. It always looks the same because I repeat myself and go slowly as the game continues. I look for his engagement by pausing and after the word “get” and waiting for him to lean into it in whatever way he can. It’s funny now that he’s older, he runs toward me when I say “I’m going to get you.” He’s the one who initiates the play.

Important Note: This is a great game, but should be played cautiously. Please make sure that you are noticing the nonverbal cues from your child. Are they visibly overwhelmed? Have they leaned into the game recently? If they are running away and not initiating a turn then it is likely time to stop and move on to a different game.

Where are you?

Another game we like to play is the “Where Are You?” game. You can play this game with a lot of different inanimate objects (or people). Pick a toy that you already have and hide it. Hide it under a blanket, around a corner, up on a shelf, or anywhere else that is within your child’s ability to find. 

Basically, this is an early version of hide-and-seek. You hide something start to slowly say, “Where are you? where are you?” 

Kids really love to copy this phrase, especially when you say it in a singsongy voice. 

As you look around you can model all sorts of different spatial concepts like over, under, in, on, up, down, between, etc. This is also a great game to play when you are actually looking for something. You can build in some play as you search for that second sock or the keys to your car. 

Games You Can Play Without Toys are GREAT for Travel!

As you can see, there are very clearly many games you can play with a toddler that don’t involve any new toys. I find that these are almost the most engaging activities you can do with a toddler. When you’re having a rough day, and I mean a rough day with your child not listening or being extra fussy, these are the games that I break out that make my child feel seen. What are the games that you play that don’t involve any toys? Do you have a big roughhousing game that you like to play with your child? What about games where they balance on your lap and you sing songs (trot trot to Boston). I can’t wait to hear what fun things you and your family get up to in the comments below.

If You Are Interested In Getting Support for Your Child’s Speech and Language

If you’re in the New Hampshire or Massachusetts area and looking for a speech therapist, please reach out to me for a free consult. I prioritize these initial phone calls to help you feel comfortable and to learn as much as I can about your family and your child. If you’re not in the New Hampshire or Massachusetts area, please feel free to reach out to me regarding any Speech & Language concerns. I will help you to find an SLP in your area who can help you meet your needs.

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