Top 10 upcycled toys

Want to nurture your child’s creativity and ease your green conscience? Sue Lynn Tan shows you how to make 10 simple toys from everyday items lurking in your recycling box.

Children have the gift of seeing life through fresh eyes and the ability to “make the ordinary come alive”. Items which we find mundane, such as salt shakers or spoons, take on unexpected uses when put in the hands of a child and can provide hours of enjoyment. Some kids even have more fun playing with the packaging of a new toy, than with the toy itself.

Instead of feeling pressured to buy every shiny new toy on the market, we should encourage our children to find fun in everyday items. Not only will this recycling ease the strain on our over-burdened environment, it can help nurture our child’s budding creativity and imagination. A great place to start is at home where, with a little inspiration, some scissors and glue, many toys are waiting to be created from items which would otherwise be binned. While the possibilities are endless, to get started here are 10 ideas of items which can be recycled into toys, from glass jar snow globes to egg carton gardens!

1. Water bottles for meditation magic

Think twice before chucking out those plastic water bottles. Babies are fascinated by the water swirling inside, even before you’ve finished your drink. When the bottle is dry, you can pop in some rice or dried pasta to make a simple rattle. Or line bottles up as pins to give your child some bowling practice. Louise, a mother of two, uses them to make ‘meditation bottles’. Just help your child fill the bottle with water, add some food colouring and sparkly glitter, and shake to marvel at the swirling magic inside. To avoid any accidental spills, you can glue the top on for added security. When your little one throws his or her next hissy fit, ask them to shake the bottle and try to calm down before all the glitter settles. Great fun, with the bonus of being a tantrum-taming tool, these bottles are gold!

2. Cartons for crazy crawlers

Moving house? Save those large packing cartons a little longer to make a racing car, fort or secret hideout, where your child can enjoy hours of creative play. To make a simple crawl tunnel, open the cartons up on both ends and connect as many as you wish securely with strong tape. Carve some holes in the cardboard to make windows or doors and watch your little ones go wild!

3. Snack and stack

Need another reason to snack? Don’t toss those aluminium cans of nuts, pretzels or crisps into the bin. These tins are great as stackers or even building blocks for young children. Just pile them up and watch your baby knock them down with glee. Or turn them around for budding musicians to bang on them with a spoon. For those into role-playing, these add a touch of realism to make-believe shopping or cooking games.

4. Roll away

Every household should have a plentiful supply of empty toilet and kitchen rolls which, with some creativity, can be transformed into butterflies, shakers or kaleidoscopes. Ms Karen Hui, the head English teacher at Victoria Kindergarten in South Horizons, shares a fun and environmentally friendly project that her students engage in – using cardboard rolls collected from the school to make binoculars. Help your child glue two empty toilet rolls together, punch a hole in each side to thread a ribbon through for the strap, and decorate away to make your child’s very own set of binoculars. From Ms Hui’s experience, children love these as the perfect accessory during role-play sessions of the “Going on a Bear Hunt” story, or “I Spy” activities.

5. Sock toys

If your little one keeps asking for another soft toy, look no further than your wardrobe, where a multitude of under-utilised and – hopefully! – clean socks reside. Think grey argyle dogs, striped monkeys or white snowmen, with buttons for eyes and ribbons for accessorising. For inspiration, Pinterest has a wonderful variety of ideas ( to pick from. And if these seem a bit intimidating to a needlework novice, just roll and stuff a bunch of socks together to make an ever-popular sock ball.

6. Milk cartons for crafters

The milk carton, another household staple, has a highly versatile shape for craftwork. Its sloped head and rectangular body is ideal for making buildings with slanted rooftops, sailboats or animals. To make a boat, lay the carton on its side and cut out most of the top side, from the centre out. For the sail, just fold a napkin, weave it through a straw and tape it to the top of the carton. Then, decorate with paint, stickers or coloured paper. As with most craft projects, this is a great way to improve your child’s fine motor skills through cutting and sticking.

7. Glass jar snow globes

Most children love snow globes and these can be made from a simple, clean glass jar, such as a baby food jar or jam jar. Once you have a suitable jar, find a figurine that fits into the jar and can be submerged in water, such as a ceramic doll, plastic tree or dinosaur. Stick the figurine securely to the inside of the jar lid with waterproof craft glue, and let it dry and harden. When the figurine is secure, fill the jar almost full with distilled water and add a few drops of glycerine to make your ‘snow’ or glitter fall down slower. Put some plastic glitter in the jar and top up with water to avoid air bubbles. Finally, apply glue to the inside of the lid, jar rim and threads, to seal it tightly shut. Turn it over and enjoy the big smile on your child’s face! For a touch of elegance, Martha Stewart has some great DIY snow globe designs at

8. Soap dispensers for water play

Children love bath time, especially with a few toys in the tub. For this purpose, plastic toiletry containers can be a great source of fun to those fiddly fingers. Think squirt bottles as water guns, foaming soap dispensers as bubble makers or even talc bottles as rainmakers. Even small containers or plastic lids could come in handy as makeshift boats to float on the water’s surface. Prepare to get splashed!

9. Matchbox cars

With a bit of imagination, you can make your very own version of the matchbox car. Any little car enthusiast would be delighted with this exercise. Just find an empty, rectangular matchbox, glue a smaller box or eraser on top as the car roof, and attach four bottle caps or buttons as wheels. Then draw in the windows and doors, paint it a favourite colour and use some shiny stickers for headlights. Slide the box open and shut for a handy trunk and add a personalised licence plate with your child’s name for an extra-special touch.

10. Egg carton garden

Recyclable egg cartons have amazing fun potential. Use the full tray to create a school bus and glue in pictures of friends as passengers to liven it up. Or cut out one egg section to make a wide variety of sea animals – from crabs to turtles – by sticking on some twisty ties as legs. Another great use for the egg carton is as a mini garden for your little one to plant in. Just cut the lid from the carton and poke drainage holes in each egg cup using a pencil tip. The lid can be placed underneath for a handy drainage tray. Fill each planting cell with soil, or the appropriate planting mixture, and plant the seeds in each one. This is also a wonderful educational project as children see the plants sprout and grow over time. Who knows where your next salad could be coming from?

This article appeared in Playtimes April Issue 2016.


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