By: Mary Kremer
Have you ever wondered why you buy expensive toys for your tot, when it seems she can go to town with a pile of cardboard? Kids have a natural desire to explore and create. So, before you buy your child another toy she may only use once, consider this: recent studies suggest that children with fewer toys develop longer attention spans, better social skills, and a greater interest in the arts, music, and other creative expressions.
Now take a look at that shoe box you were going to throw away. In the hands of your child, it might actually be a house, a castle, a hospital for injured dolls, a diorama, a ukulele or guitar. Give your little one a chance to flex her creative muscles, and turn your trash into treasure with these recycled projects!
Build a Cardboard Dollhouse
There are so many ways to reuse old cardboard! If your children love doll houses, make a few using shoe boxes, glue, and paint. Simply take off the shoebox lids, lay the boxes on their sides and attach a few to each other (with glue or staples) to make several bedrooms. Then, let your children paint and decorate the boxes as they choose. Encourage your kids to fill their houses with mini rugs cut from fabric, tiny pictures for the walls, and furniture made from sticks, wire, and pipe cleaners. Look around your house for spare bits and let your little ones get creative with them!
Though these shoebox houses might not look as posh as store-bought dollhouses, your children are more likely to play with something they’ve designed and painted themselves. Plus, when they get tired of playing with their houses, you won’t feel bad about recycling them.
Become a One-Man Band
Making recycled instruments is another great activity to try with your little ones. For a really simple guitar, all you need is an empty tissue box and some rubber bands. Let your child decorate the box however he’d like, then strap a few rubber bands around the box and let him start crooning. If you’d like, you can add an arm to the guitar with a used paper towel roll.
For an easy-to-make tambourine, find a Y-shaped branch (preferably hardwood), a dozen metal bottle caps, and some strong wire. Let your child decorate the branch with paint and feathers while you hammer flat the metal bottle caps. Then, with a nail, punch a hole through the middle of each of the caps. String the caps on a piece of metal wire and tie it firmly between the branches of the Y. Make sure the wire is pulled taut. Then let your child go wild!
If you have a few extra metal cans lying around, try making your child a music station in your backyard. To do this, you’ll need some metal cans, wire, and washers. Punch a hole in the tops of a few metal cans. Then, string a wire through them and tie a washer on the wire below each can to hold the can in place. When you hold the wire up, the cans should line up on top of each other. Tie metal washers along the wire as well, so when your child hits the can, the washers along the line will bang against the cans and make noise. Let your children decorate the cans as they please, then give them a stick and let them bang away. This is a great way to teach them about music and rhythm and encourage their musical creativity. You just have to get used to a little ruckus.
Hit the Golf Course
All you need to make your own golf or croquet course is a few liter bottles, some duct tape, a couple pieces of cardboard, and a few leftover cardboard wrapping paper rolls. For golf holes, just cut the bottom off of a plastic liter bottle and cut a door-like arch at the base (about 3x4 inches). Decorate the bottle with colored duct tape or paint and be sure to number it. Make as many holes as you would like for your course.
To make a golf club, duct tape a sturdy piece of cardboard (about 3x12 inches) to the bottom of a sturdy cardboard wrapping paper roll. You can tape the rest of the roll in colored duct tape to decorate it. It will end up looking more like a hockey stick. After that, all you need are a few lightweight plastic balls (ping pong balls will work great), and you’ve got a game! Have your kids set up the course however they’d like it and watch them swing away!
These recycled toys and games are a great way to encourage creativity and also make use of some things you might just toss. The best part is, if your child loses interest, you can pick another project and recycle your old ones. Keep in mind, while almost everything you use in your house can be recycled (clean paper, cardboard, and most metal cans), there are a few things you need to keep out of the trash, namely paint, cleaning products, old tires, and other hazardous materials. For a complete list of recyclable products, click here.