Have you seen how much kids’ toys cost these days? Yikes. As a new mother, I am shocked every time I have the occasion to buy toys for my daughter or one of her friends. It’s not just the price tag that astonishes me; it’s all the bells and whistles, too. I’m hard pressed to find toys that do not require batteries to fuel their blaring noises and blinking lights, or advertise characters for TV shows. I can’t help but feeling like many of these toys don’t require much imagination, or even interaction, from the child.
I want my daughter to have a childhood of wonderment and exploration. I want her playtime to build her ever-developing skills and encourage creative thinking. Of course my little girl gets a kick out of her toys that sing and light up, but she has just as much fun pretending a cardboard tube is a trumpet. There’s no need to spend loads of money on toys when I have everything to make her happy right in my recycling bin.
To gather ideas for homemade toys I took a cue from my local Parents as Teachers chapter. I could talk for hours about the merits of Parents as Teachers. This program’s impact on our family and our community is immeasurable. But today I will simply praise their ability to take any every day object and transform it into a fantastic toy. Each month our parent educator brings us a homemade toy to help my child develop a certain skill appropriate to her age. A water bottle becomes a colorful rattle. A parmesan cheese shaker becomes a specialized shape sorter. A coffee can becomes a drum or a push toy. A milk jug becomes a clothespin game. Every toy fills my little girl with delight as she plays with it over and over again until she has mastered it, then invents her own use for the toy. And each toy costs almost nothing, yet keeps another container from sitting in a landfill. (You can learn more about Topeka Parents as Teachers and see some of their toys on their Facebook page.)
For my project this week I referenced an article from Mother Earth News about some favorite Parents as Teachers toys, and poked around the Web for some other ideas. My child is only about 18 months old, so the toys I chose to make are appropriate for very young children, though they do require supervision for safety.
I gathered up some recyclables I’d been saving up in a paper sack for my parent educator and brought them to my “workshop,” the dining room. This was like Christmas for my little one. She squealed with delight at the sight of all the treasures in the bag, examining each container and cardboard tube before whisking them away to play. I had so much fun just watching her create her own games with the objects. She is so little, but she amazes me every day with her clever ideas.
The first toy I made was a lacing activity. I threaded a wide ribbon through a hole in a square piece of cardboard and tied a knot at the end. Then I cut a paper towel tube into rings to slide on and off the ribbon. So simple, but fascinating to a tiny tot!
Next I made a toy my toddler can pull behind her as she wobbles around the house. I poked holes on the bottom and lid of an oatmeal can, put a handful of dry beans and a couple of bells inside for a fun sound, threaded a ribbon through the holes and tied the ends together. Then I secured the lid with glue and electrical tape and decorated the can with colorful paper and stickers. This toy can also be suspended between two chairs to be used as a kicking activity for an infant lying on his/her back.
My third toy was an ocean in a bottle. This is a fun toy for a little one to watch as they, or a grown-up, tilt the bottle from side to side to see the oil swirl around in the water. Actually, my husband seems to enjoy it as much as our little girl does! I cleaned out an empty plastic syrup bottle and removed the labels. (Any plastic bottle with a lid will do; this is what I had on hand.) Then I filled it halfway with water, added a few drops of food coloring, and filled it the rest of the way with vegetable oil. I put a few drops of food coloring in the oil, which resulted in colored “bubbles” that float in the oil, and finished it off with a dash of glitter. Then I hot-glued the lid onto the bottle, making sure it sealed completely, and covered the lid with electrical tape to further resist leaks. A few stickers on the outside added a fun touch.
Finally I made a rattle out of a small spice bottle. I put a jingle bell inside the container, hot-glued it shut, and secured it with electrical tape. A few sticker embellishments and it was done.
Making homemade toys is such a fun way to find new uses for old objects. Once you make a few of these toys, you begin to see so many possibilities in items you used to consider junk. And if you can’t find a new use for that plastic bottle or that cardboard carton you’re about to throw away, I bet your child can! As my child gets older I look forward to having her help me make more of these toys. The egg carton treasure box and cardboard tube binoculars from the Mother Earth News article look especially fun!
For more ideas for making homemade toys out of empty containers, check out this Home Sweet Homebodies post about making musical instruments. My little one and I will be trying these ideas soon!
How do you reuse empty containers and other recyclables? Leave me a comment and let me know. It’s better to reuse objects than to throw them away, or even recycle them, so I’m always looking for new ideas.