Kids love to make their own toys, and when they upcycle those toys from stuff that you’d otherwise put in the trash or the recycling bin, then they’re not only having fun and saving money, but also learning valuable lessons about eco-friendly creativity.
Here are upcycling projects to get your kids started (but don’t be surprised when they also come up with something truly unique!):
1. T-shirt + plastic bags. Let kids practice their beginning sewing skills by sewing together a stuffie using an old T-shirt for the fabric–jersey knit won’t ravel, so it’s a great fabric for kids to sew with. And when they stuff their creation using plastic grocery bags, they’ll gain a crinkly toy AND keep plastic bags out of the waste stream.
2. tin cans + twine. Make stilts!
3. window screening + scraps. A giant weaving wall is a source of continual entertainment and creativity.
4. pegboard + zip ties + milk jugs + tubing. Kids can turn the recyclables from last week’s groceries and leftovers from the weekend’s home improvement projects into a homemade water pouring wall.
5. toilet paper tube + popsicle sticks + yarn. Even little kids can spool knit.
6. newspaper + yarn. By using a plastic object as a mold–plastic ball, perhaps, or Tupperware container?–a kid can create a papier mache treasure holder, with a yarn fastener.
7. charcoal pencil stub + washer. Make a drawing top!
8. scrap board + nails + rubber bands. Lumber leftover from bookshelf building and a month’s worth of rubber bands from the newspaper delivery make an extremely satisfying and versatile pinball game.
9. dowel stub + jewelry doodads. You can’t go to Hogwarts without your own wand.
10. cardboard + string. My kids LOVE to decorate these cardboard pendants with gel pens. The sparklier, the better!
11. CDs + yarn. Teach kids to weave with stash yarn around scratched CDs, and watch their amazing creations take life!
12. soda bottles + zipper. Let your kid try out the hot glue gun and turn two soda bottles and a zipper torn out of some old pants into a treasure box.
13. juice cartons + yarn. Make a bird feeder!
14. plastic water bottle + doodads. Snag a water bottle from the recycling bin and let a kid pick out a bunch of colorful, random stuff–buttons, paper clips, orphaned game pieces, etc.–to make this rolling sensory toy for a baby.
15. T-shirts + refrigerator magnets. Kids will love making their own braided bracelets.