Living a more eco-conscious life means looking for opportunities to use what you have more often and buy new stuff less often. Upcycling, or “making stuff” as our grandparents called it, is a great way to use what you might otherwise discard and create a new, better thing from the materials. In my view, to count as a successful upcycle, an item needs to use something that would otherwise be waste and the end product should be different and better/cuter/more useful than the components it is made from.
I scoured Pinterest for cool upcycled toy projects and found mixed results. Some projects were super basic – give your kid a big box and tell her it is a rocket ship. Give her an empty oatmeal canister to use as a drum. That’s cool, but it’s not upcycling. Kids need to play with empty boxes, build forts out of bed sheets, and ward off foes and fiery dragons with nothing more than their courage, a cereal box shield and a wrapping paper-roll-turned-broadsword. Imaginative, unscripted play is vital to the development of a child’s imagination. So, while I 100% support reusing things, for this collection I disqualified pins I don’t see as true upcycles.
Sumo Bowling Pins — These little guys, made by Leslie at Pink Stripey Socks rock my world. I’m searching fervently for the little aquapod bottles so I can make a set for my daughter. I realize it is technically cheating to buy a product just to upcycle the packaging but these guys are so cute that I can’t resist. I mean look at them! Can you blame me?
DIY TV Toy — This crafty upcycle has amazing DIY instructions to turn a tissue box into a toy TV with customized “channels” for your kiddo to change or create. Playing with this toy is a great way to switch off the electronics and use imagination instead.
DIY I-Spy Bottle — I saw my first I-Spy bottle about a year ago and I thought it was such fun. It was the kind you buy from the store with the little beads and wee plastic tchotchskies inside. Where was this invention when I was a kid on car trips? This version uses stuff you find around the house and in the dreaded junk drawer. It’s made with found materials and if you buy your rice in bulk, this toy will cost just pennies to make.
Super Hero Bracelets — These power cuffs a la Wonder Woman are made from spent toilet tissue rolls, glitter and Mod Podge. The tutorial is high quality and includes some pro-tips from the creator’s experience. Just last week my two-year-old appeared from her room dressed in a Yo Gabba Gabba tee-shirt paired with her Hello Kitty tutu and Darth Vader mask. My husband was never more proud. This is a child in desperate need of Bracelets of Victory to complete her look.
Recycle Sort Game — This is maybe the easiest to make of all of the toys and games I found. I love it for being a practical, customizable teaching tool. Want your kids to understand what goes in the trash and what goes in the recycle bin? Make a game of it – literally.
Do you have some favorite upcycled toy ideas? How about fond memories of playing with a sweet cardboard box? We got a brand new avocado green dishwasher in ’81 and I probably got 100 hours of fun out of that carton. The Wilderness Girls love hearing your thoughts so please share them in the comments below.