If you’ve ever had the experience of watching your baby or toddler be way more fascinated with the cardboard box than the toy that came inside it, then making toys out of so-called trash won’t seem too strange an idea. Redesigning recyclable materials into toys can be an art form. In 2012, Gizmag profiled Arvind Gupta, an Indian engineer who has spent his life making educational toys from bicycle tubes, matchsticks, bottles, and other items. How do you recreate some of his methods? With young children capable of begging for a new toy almost every day, it can be really helpful to have a few creative ideas under your belt for creating new toys from old packaging. Be sure you include your children in making these toys as much as possible, because the process of using their creativity can be even more rewarding than having something new to play with.
1. Packaging You Can Use
Of course, cardboard boxes are the most valuable items you can store if you want to construct toys. Boxes work for houses, cars, and other larger toys. You can also use cardboard for all kinds of things like creating puzzles, toy tools or appliances, or even figurines. Other good packaging to use includes egg cartons, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, plastic bottles, and smaller boxes like those used for cereal, shoes, or pizza. When you’re looking for material to use for your toys, keep in mind the age of your children and the best choices for safety. It goes without saying that you want to avoid plastic bags, but you also want to avoid tissue and anything with small pieces or frayed edges that toddlers could ingest or choke on.
2. Pipe Cleaners, Paints, and Stickers
Cardboard and cartons can be pretty uninspired if you don’t have the right materials to decorate them, and you’d be surprised how creative you can get with some simple art supplies. Pipe cleaners work for creating antenna on egg carton animals, building bridges on cardboard castles, and any other purpose you can devise. Stickers are great for decorating playhouses and cars made out of boxes. You’ve probably seen plenty of plastic toys that come with stickers, and it’s easy to order your own sets of adhesives with your own designs or pictures on them to decorate your homemade creations. And non-toxic paints are a source of entertainment for kids who want to paint their own toys, whether they are playhouses or recyclable figurines. Children will be glad to have the freedom to design these toys however they want.
3. What Can You Make?
Your creativity has no limits when it comes to what kind of toys you want to construct, but it’s easy to look on the web for ideas. Think about using boxes for building blocks, something that is certain to entertain younger children. Imagine creating toys that make sound, like with rubber bands they can snap, as long as they’re held in place and the children can’t hurt themselves, or with rice or beans in a plastic bottle. Bottles and other plastic material can also be used to make bath toys. Your toilet paper or paper towel rolls can be used to create instruments, binoculars, kaleidoscopes, and other toys. If you want to create a memory game, use some of your stickers on the backs of juice lids. You can also teach older children to string together jewelry made of macaroni, cheerios, or smaller forms of packaging. Toddler websites and books on activities have lots of ideas, but there are plenty more you can come up with all on your own.
4. Things to Consider
Children are going to have their own interests, and their imaginations are sometimes sparked by vastly different sensory experiences. But you might be surprised how often kids will be genuinely interested and fascinated by toys they can help make themselves. Like Arvid Gupta preaches, toys made from supposed trash teach innovation and creativity, and sometimes even scientific principles. Don’t limit a child’s imagination, but sometimes you can stick to the basics. Most children will love a simple fort or a tunnel that they can decorate, and it will last well until those cardboard boxes have worn out.
By creating toys from old packaging, not only are you taking into consideration the wastefulness of buying overpriced pieces of plastic that they soon get bored with anyway, you’re also choosing to look for a more educational value in your children’s toys. You have the chance to teach them a little something about art, design, and construction. It might sound silly, but their fascination with the box it came in could actually enrich their lives.