If I had a dollar for every time I do something with Noah that I swore I’d never do, I’d be rich. A toddler potty? No way! How was that better than washing out his cloth diapers? Well, here we are with not just one but three toddler potties. A prize box? I definitely envisioned a prize box — but for going above and beyond not for bribing him! Well, here we are with a cute little treasure chest filled with prizes intended to motivate him to use the potty.
I started passively potty training Noah at around a year old. He showed many signs of potty readiness, and honestly, it went pretty well at first. He took to it right away, and I thought it was free-sailing! Boy was I wrong! “Can” and “will” are two entirely different things; this is true for people of all ages and abilities, but it’s just so much more prominent in a toddler.
I started the prize box thinking that I’d give him a prize at the end of the day for successful potty training, but that goal is too long term for a toddler, and partial day goals were hard for him to quantify. Earning stickers seemed like a great idea, but he grew tired of stickers pretty quickly. And that’s how we unintentionally ended up in a “I”ll give you a prize if you go on the potty!” situation.
But, I don’t want a prize box full of dollar store junk. I’ve been extremely intentional about Noah’s toys, and I also just don’t want a bunch of random plastic trinkets laying around the house. Noah’s really good about cleaning up his toys, so at least I don’t have to worry about stepping on them in the middle of the night, but I still refuse to waste money on things that will collect dust at the bottom of a toy box or end up in the trash mere days later.
So, what do you put in a toddler prize box that you can actually afford every single time your child goes potty? or whatever else you’re using a prize box to motivate your child to do that they don’t want to do? !
Setting Up the Prize Box
I decided that if I’m going to have a prize box, I might as well go all out. I ordered this adorable treasure chest on Amazon for Noah’s prizes. It’s cardboard. For the price and purpose, it’s perfect. The lid doesn’t line up perfectly, but it does its job, and Noah loves it. The treasure chest immediately gave him a sense that “this is something that I want!”
I LOVE Alphabots. I’ve gifted alphabots and numberbots to many children over the years. They’re transformable letters. Each one transforms in a unique way, and it’s quite a bit of fun to give each letter its ow personality. I actually bought the Alphabots pre-prize box, but I only gave him a few letters (N-O-A-H) to start. This left me with 22 letters that I intended to gradually introduce to him. Into the prize box they went!
Cost: $1.23 per prize
2. Mini Board Books
Noah loves books, and there’s no such thing as too many books. I have fond memories of earning books from a prize box when I was little though neither my mom nor I can recall exactly what I did to earn my prizes, but nonetheless, I can still vividly recall earning my Spot books from the prize box. Mini board books work perfectly for a prize box. You can buy them in box sets, but the cost per book ranges quite significantly from about $0.75 to $4.00 per book. Perfect. Noah started out with a box set of Winnie the Pooh books, which he was actually gifted as a newborn but hadn’t seen in long enough to “forget” and a set of PD Eastman books which were delivered, courtesy of Amazon, a day later. Admittedly, the PD Eastman books are a bit expensive for an “every trip to the potty” prize, but I was going to buy them regardless.
Cost: $0.75+ per prize
Under $1 Per Book
These aren’t “the world’s best stories.” Instead, they’re little books perfectly sized for little hands. Your toddler will love holding them and carrying them around, and eventually, they’ll be perfect first learning to read books.
3. Melissa and Doug Alphabet Puzzles
Noah’s been very interested in the alphabet and learning to read lately. This set is normally about $11, but I got it on sale for $8. It includes 26 2-piece puzzles, one for each letter of the alphabet. I gave him one puzzle and the storage box to start out with, but the other 25 puzzles are reserved for the prize box.
Cost: $0.30 per prize
4. Lego Duplo People and Animals
Noah’s outgrown his Mega Blocks. He loved them, but it’s hard to build anything significant with them. I’ve been considering upgrading to Duplos for awhile, but with hundreds of thousands of K’nex, I’ve been struggling to justify it. Grandma had a great idea. Get a set of Duplos, g ive him the basic blocks, and reserve the people and animals for the prize box.
Per her suggestion, I also searched Facebook Marketplace to see if anyone was trying to get rid of Duplos people and/or animals. I haven’t found a decent lot on Facebook yet, but I’ll keep looking. In the meantime, I ordered a set of knock-off Duplo animals from Amazon. I couldn’t find a “good” set of Lego Duplo animals that didn’t involve spending $100+ on a “mega set,” so this seemed like a good in-between. I’m going to get him the Duplo starter set to go with it too.
5. Three Letter Word Puzzles
I’ll confess. I already had these laying around, so I didn’t have to spend a penny on this prize right now! You can get a set of 40 three-letter word puzzles on Amazon for just $15. That’s a pretty good deal! I put each puzzle in a bag. Each puzzle equals one prize. Like the rest of his prize options, he just has a few options in his prize box. The rest are in the closet.
6. Little People
I’ll confess. Little People aren’t in Noah’s prize box. He already has quite a collection of Little People right now, but they may make an appearance one day. Toddlers love Little People. They’re perfectly shaped and sized for their little hands, and the Little People buildings encourage creative and pretend play. You can get individual little people at Walmart for about $1.50, source them on Facebook Marketplace, or spend a little more (about $2/each) for a set that perfectly matches your child’s interests on Amazon.
Cost: $1 – $2 per prize
7. Counting Bears
Your toddler might get bored of this prize pretty quickly if made each individual bear a prize; however, you can either (1) make baggies for each color bear (perfect if you’re working on color recognition), (2) make assorted bear bags, or (2) use them individually as prizes until the excitement wears off and make the rest of the bears “magically” appear one day for a special reason. If your child prefers dinosaurs or sea creatures, you can get counting manipulatives for those themes instead.
Whether or not your toddler is ready to learn to count and/or add, counting bears (or dinosaurs) will last your child a very long time. Counting objects are used throughout pre-school, Kindergarten, and primary school for counting, adding, subtracting, ordering, sorting, and more. They can even be used for set theory much later!
8. Play Food
If your toddler has a toy kitchen, you can turn the prize box into a grocery trip! Learning Resources makes high quality play food, and you can get a set of 50 food pieces for $35. If you treat each piece as a prize, that’s 50 prizes. You could also use baggies to make little snack packs though the “cost per prize” goes up if you give your child multiple pieces at a time.
Cost: $0.70 per prize
I haven’t met a toddler who does not love bubbles. While your toddler probably already has bubbles at home, I’ve yet to see bubbles go “unwanted” in a prize box. No such thing as too many bubbles! While some of Noah’s toys, like the Alphabots, are plastic, I try to reduce my plastic waste as much as possible. Rather than buying a large pack of mini bubbles, buy a standard-size bottle of bubbles. Once the day of bubble fun has worn off, you can simply refill the bubble bottle and return it to the prize box at night. You can make your own bubble solution, or make your life easy with a giant bottle of bubble refill!
Looking for something even more fun? These cute little bubble animals are perfect for toddlers, allowing them to “blow” bubbles all on their own!
10. Wooden Trains
Whether or not your child has wood train tracks, these little wood trains are a delight for little hands. Noah loves to carry his trains around the house, hide them in his pockets, and help them chug merrily along his train tracks. Wooden train sets help children develop storytelling skills, creative thinking, dexterity, and gross motor skills. Putting together train tracks was Noah’s introduction to fitting together “jigsaw” pieces, and his puzzling skills soared once he figured them out!
Cost: $1.00 per prize
11. Wooden Animal Magnets
These wooden magnets are adorable, and they have so many uses! From learning the animal names and sounds to imaginative play, these animal magnets are a fantastic prize box addition. The set comes with 20 different animals, and it’s under $7.
What’s in your toddler’s prize box? Let us know in the comments!
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