Got an old cardboard box, an empty plastic bottle, and a squillion-and-one toilet paper rolls? Save them from the recycling bin. Because our incredibly clever play expert Tara Ient has five ways that you can turn your old cartons into new toys that are engaging and educational and fun. (Definitely fun.)
Cardboard post box
Go on and grab: a cardboard box (or Gro-To shipper), masking tape, coloured markers, wipe lids, and a bunch of random stuff like milk bottle lids, pegs, straws, pom poms, or small toys.
You’re going to make a post box! (Sort of.) Take your very boring cardboard box and a bunch of old baby wipe lids, and start by cutting holes in the top of the box that are just smaller than the lids. Then use masking tape to stick the lids on top; and, LOOK! You’ve made a very fun lift-the-flap posting game. Hand your kids different objects that they can try to ‘post’ through the slots. Up the problem solving element (if your littles ones are clever cats) by colouring the lids and encouraging them to pick objects that match the colours.
You’ll be working on: hand-eye coordination, problem solving, colour matching, fine motor skills, using two hands together, understanding of object permanence, and word exposure (teaching them to ‘drop’, ‘post’, ‘open’, ‘shut’).
Toilet roll ball drop
Go on and grab: lots of toilet rolls or paper towel rolls, scissors, masking tape, pom poms or ping pong balls, and your engineering degree. (JK.) (Kinda.)
Toilet rolls can be used in loads of ways to play with your kids, but this might be the most fun! (Even more fun than unrolling all the toilet paper from the holder, we promise.) Create the tubes for your ball drop by cutting the recycled toilet paper rolls in different lengths, then either tape them inside a large box or along a wall (positioning them carefully, so the balls can roll down). Watch as your kids roll their pom poms or balls down the drop, and pat yourself on the back for engineering such a masterpiece!
You’ll be working on: visual tracking, understanding of cause and effect, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and word exposure (‘drop’, ‘ready set go’, ‘down’, ‘again’).
Egg carton push
Go on and grab: an egg carton, coloured markers, small objects like pom poms, straws, pipe cleaners, dried pasta, pegs, cotton tips, marbles or M&Ms. (Yum.)
This is a win-win! You get to reuse your egg cartons, while your kid gets to strengthen their muscles. (And if you use M&Ms, you also get to enjoy a sweet snack. Nice!) Turn your egg carton upside down, and cut holes in the bottom that are just big enough to push your objects through. For big kids, make sure some effort is required to push, and for little squirts, use something like a straw that they can easily poke in and pull out. You can colour the holes too, if
you want to improve their colour matching skills.
You’ll be working on: hand-eye coordination, finger and hand strength, finger isolation, colour matching, problem solving, word exposure (‘push’, ‘pop’), colours and counting.
DIY road with traffic controller
Go on and grab: cardboard box or masking tape, markers, toy cars, Sud Bud (to control the traffic, obviously), pipe cleaners, and some red and green signs.
If you have a large cardboard box, open it up and use a marker to draw your road, with a roundabout and parking lot. Don’t have a box big enough? Easy! You can use masking tape to create the outline of the road on the floor. Then drive your toy cars around the streets. If they start to go off road, Sud Bud makes an excellent traffic controller (all he needs is some pipe-cleaner arms, and a red and green pom pom). Pop him in the middle of the road to help your kids learn ‘stop’ and ‘go’.
You’ll be working on: imaginative and creative play, drawing skills, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, ‘go’ and ‘stop’ concepts, number recognition, car engine noise making, word exposure (‘stop’, ‘go’, ‘drive’, ‘turn’, ‘park’, ‘around’, ‘red’, ‘green’, ‘wait’) and numbers.
Sock bubble snake
Go on and grab: a plastic bottle, one of dad’s old socks (washed first!), an elastic band or masking tape, bubble mixture in a shallow bowl, and food colouring (optional).
Bubbles are astonishingly fun! But one way to make them even funner is to create a bubble snake blower from a plastic bottle and odd sock. Start by cutting the top off your plastic bottle. (Save the bottom half for next time you do painting, it’ll make a terrific paint pot!) Then, cut the end off dad’s old stinky sock. Phew. Pull the sock over the wide end of the bottle and secure tightly with an elastic band or tape. Dip the sock end in the bubble mixture and blow! (Remember: Always blow out and never in!) If you want to add colour, place a few drops of food colouring on the sock after dipping it into the bubble mixture.
You’ll be working on: cause and effect, learning to blow out, hand-eye coordination, messy sensory play, word exposure (‘blow’, ‘bubbles’, ‘dip’, ‘pop’, ‘wow’), and colours.