Toys from Trash

by Victoria Purdie

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Isn't it annoying when you buy a state-of-the-art, high-tech battery operated, remote controlled, latest fad toy for your child and they end up playing with the box it came in? If you love to save money, recycle, and enjoy making things with your child, have a look at these ideas:

Supervision will be required with some of the ideas.

Stacking Toys

Collect lids from aerosol cans and plastic jars of different sizes and use as stacking and nesting toys. Stack them into towers and then nest them back inside themselves. These can also be used in pretend baking sets, for use in the bath, paddling pool or sandpit, or as cups in a pretend tea party.

Aeroplane Cockpit

Make a pretend aeroplane cockpit from a medium sized box and a few lids and corks, by attaching them to the front of the box. Draw on some clocks, gauges and a compass.

Play Houses

Play houses can be as permanent or as temporary as you like, from a blanket thrown over two chairs to a more complex house made by cutting out windows and a door from a large cardboard box (i.e. a washing machine box). Add drawn in features like a clock, photographs, burglar alarm system with keypad, mail box slot, a window box with flowers and anything else that is appropriate.


Two empty toilet rolls or a lunch wrap roll cut in half, taped side by side, with a piece of string attached for hanging around the neck, makes a pair of binoculars for pretend play.

Quick Indoor Balls

Make a quick ball for indoor use by rolling up a sheet of glossy advertising mail into a ball shape. Secure it well with masking tape. Rolling a clean pair or socks into themselves can make another type of quick soft ball.

Romper Stompers

Find two clean and empty milk powder or coffee tins. Drill or punch holes with a nail and hammer in each side at the top of the tins, and thread through pieces of elastic or rope, leaving enough to make handles to suit your child's height. To walk, your child stands on top of the tins and uses the handles to walk with. Old pieces of cardboard or carpet can be attached to the bottom of the tins to make them quieter.

Cardboard City

To make a cardboard city to use in conjunction with toy cars, you'll first need to find or buy a large sheet of cardboard. You could flatten out a cardboard box for this. Then in pencil, design a city starting with roads, then add houses, shops, a gas station, railway station, trees, a park, bus depot, boat ramps, library and so on. Colour in, and then cover with sticky plastic seal to keep it clean.

Cardboard Farm

Similar to the above, make a farm using a sheet of green cardboard, or use plain and paint a green background to begin with. Add a farmhouse, barn, trees, bushes, animal pens, horse jumps etc, and make a pond by gluing on a piece of tinfoil. Use with plastic animals or cut out your own animal shapes.

Own Books

A good way to help your child along in their early reading is to put together a book with words and pictures that they themselves have helped to create.

Begin by sitting down and talking, then form that talking into a story, real or imaginary, serious or silly, and then write the story down in an exercise book or on sheets of paper stapled together. Finish by doing some simple colourful illustrations or cut out pictures from old magazines and glue into the book. This is a great way to build self-esteem in a child, especially if they are the hero of the story.

Post Car

Purchase or find an old steering wheel and a rear view mirror from a wrecker's yard and attach them to a post either indoors (like in a garage or carport) or outside somewhere. Children will love to sit on a chair and pretend to 'drive' like a grown up.

Feed the Face Game

Using an empty cereal packet, cover one side with a clean sheet of paper. Draw a clown's face on it with a big wide smile. Cut out the mouth area leaving the lips only. Colour in with paints or crayons. To play, get about six small objects like stones and practice tossing them into the mouth. Children can move further away as they become better at getting the objects into the box.

Toss N Catch Game

Using an empty plastic jar, tie a piece of string around it's neck about 15 inches long and then add a ping pong ball to the other end of the string. The idea is to try and flick the ball upwards and catch it in the container or you can toss the ball with one hand and try to catch it with the other.

Threading Tree

On a thick piece of cardboard draw the shape of a tree. Punch holes around the edge of your shape using a hole punch. Then tie an old shoelace or a piece of string with a bit of tape on the end to make a point, onto the tree near the bottom. Teach your child how to go in and out the holes in a 'sewing' fashion.

Alphabet Flash Cards

On 26 pieces of cardboard all the same size, glue simple colourful pictures from old magazines and junk mail, or draw pictures that illustrate easy words for your child to learn. Label each picture and write the letter of the alphabet the picture begins with. Use these regularly to teach your child the letters of the alphabet and how to read and recognise words and pictures.

Toy Ovens

To make a toy oven from a cardboard box, begin by finding a medium sized box. Paint 4 red circles on the top like elements, add some cotton reels or painted on dials at the front of the stove, and then cut out 3 sides of the door section so it's still hinged at the bottom. You may want to lend your child some patty cake tins or plastic cake containers to help in their pretend play.

If after all this, your child or children are still demanding entertainment, suggest a game of hide and seek - they hide and you pretend you can't find them for a while.

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