The old adage says that a toddler (or baby) would rather play with
the box a toy comes in than with the toy itself.
If the adage is true (which it usually is), why not save some
money and give your young children what they really want? Make toys
from the things you would normally throw away. Of course, some trash
items are inappropriate playthings – don’t use a depleted AA battery
as a teether – but many other household trash items can be made into
safe and fun toys.
The possibilities for toy-making are vast, and once you start to see
the play potential in a few household items, you will probably have
some creative ideas of your own. In the meantime, here are a few to
get you started:
1. Use cereal boxes, oatmeal boxes, and similar boxes to make large
building blocks. Slightly older children can use these boxes to play
store. (Save fake credit cards from pre-approved offers for the same
2. Use a large cardboard box to make a playhouse or tunnel. Allow
your child to do the interior (and exterior) decorating with crayons
3. Put rubber bands around a shoebox (without a lid) to make a
4. Use squeeze bottles that previously held dish detergent or
shampoo as squirt toys in the bathtub or pool. Assorted plastic cups
and bowls are also great in the tub to teach children how to pour.
5. In addition to pouring, pudding or yogurt cups have many fun
uses. Put a small toy underneath one to play a hide and seek game.
Babies may also enjoy putting these cups inside each other (or
putting another toy inside them). For older children, connect two
cups with a string to make a telephone.
6. Put dry beans or rice in a cup or on a paper or plastic plate.
Glue/tape a second cup or plate to the rim of the first to make
maracas (cups) or a tambourine (plates).
7. Turn toilet paper tubes into kazoos by putting a piece of wax
paper over one end and securing it with a rubber band.
8. Tie a wide wrapping paper tube to the stair rail. Put a ball in
the top of the tube and watch it reappear at the bottom.
9. Put together several margarine tubs to make a drum set, using
spoons as drumsticks. (Smaller yogurt cups with lids can also be
part of the set.)
10. Save plastic milk lids. Cut an “X” in the lid of a margarine tub
and allow your toddler to push the milk lids through the top.
Reinforce the “X” with packing tape; this homemade toy may be used
far more than you expect.
11. Stick matching pairs of stickers on frozen juice can lids to
create a memory game.
12. Fill an empty plastic bottle with a mixture of water and cooking
oil. Add a few drops of food coloring for interest, and tightly
secure the top. Tilt the bottle to make waves with interesting
13. Use a pencil sharpener or knife to shave wax off broken crayons.
Allow your child to arrange the shavings on a piece of wax paper.
Cover the crayons with another piece of wax paper and briefly put
the paper under an iron to melt the wax. Voila! You have instant
“stained glass” to tape to your windows.
14. Cut straws of different colors into inch-long pieces. Allow your
toddler to string them onto a shoelace or yarn to make a necklace.
(You can also intersperse Cheerios beads.)
15. Use an egg carton as a paint tray or allow your supervised
toddler to move small objects from one segment to the next. Create a
texture tray by gluing fabric, paper, and other things of varied
textures to the bottoms of the segments and letting your child feel
the different surfaces.
16. Save the plastic Gerber Graduates Puffs containers to make a
17. Open junk mail. You may find interesting stickers, scratch-off
“games,” and other goodies your toddler can use. (Toddlers will
enjoy the stickers and scratch-offs no matter what design is on or
under them. They won’t be disappointed to see, “Sorry! Try again!”)
For more inspiration, check your local library for books on toddler
games. (Some of these ideas came from books of this sort; one good
one is The Complete Resource Book for Toddlers and Twos: Over 2000 Experiences and Ideas
by Pam Schiller.) Be
creative, and have fun!