Trash to Toddler Treasure – 14 DIY Toddler Toys

by Meghan

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Toddlers can be a tireless, ball of energy.  In constant perpetual motion, they only seem to slowdown to sleep… and sometimes, they even fight that!  The good news is they are also easily and endlessly amused by the simplest, household objects.  Today I am sharing a list of common household recyclables, or trash, that your toddler will cherish as if it were treasure.  With a few inexpensive crafting supplies, you can turn just about any recyclable into easy, DIY Toddler Toys.

14 DIY Toddler Toys

14 DIY Toddler Toys

Tub with a Hole


I made this for Big M when she was a year old, and I was flying to Texas with her by myself.  Three years later, it easily has been the most played with toy in our house to date.  I’m not exaggerating when I say kids come over for play dates and fight over it.  All that’s involved is an empty cream cheese tub with a hole cut in the lid.  I have filled it at various times with either different colored ribbons or pom poms of various sizes, textures.  They never get tired of pulling them out and putting them back in.  It’s always been fun to watch them figure out how to get them out of the hole too.  Endless entertainment!

Packing or Builder’s Paper

I use this for all sorts of rainy day entertainment indoors, as well as messier art projects outdoors.  The first time I used it, I saved about 30 feet or more from a package my mom sent the girls.  Then, I discovered I could buy a 166 foot roll of builder’s paper at Home Depot for $10.  I just ran out of our first roll after about 2 years.

Massive Floor Murals

I roll out paper the length of our dining area, and give the girls an assortment of colors, markers, and stickers.  Sometimes we trace body parts, like hands and feet, and sometimes we outline their whole bodies.


Other times, I add some cookie cutters to the mix to use for tracing too.  We practice shapes, writing names, naming colors.  And sometimes I just let them play freely, coming back and forth to their mural over the course of a long rainy or wintery day.

Shape Walk

One day this winter, after way too many single digit and snow days stuck in doors, we added an active and sensory component to our floor murals, creating a Shape Walk.  I drew a series of large shapes in different colors down the length of the paper hopscotch style, and finished off the ends with some squares of bubble wrap (recycled from Christmas packages).  As I shouted out action commands to move from one shape to the next, the girls got their cabin fever out!  And pretty soon, started inventing their own actions too!

Swatter Mural Art

This is definitely one of my favorite projects we have ever done.  All you need is a length of packing paper, paint and some old fly swatters (or you can pick up a pair for $1 at your local Dollar Store).  It was great for afternoon of entertainment, and all the mess is easily rolled up or hosed down.

Swatter Mural Art Pin

Egg Cartons

Egg cartons not only make for great crafting materials, they also make for great fine motor skill, sorting, and even target practice.

Egg Cartons with Ping Pong Balls

Lil’ M was endlessly amused by this for days.  She would throw them out, chase them all down and put them back in the holes.  Or she would just sit and move them from one space to another.


Big M thought it was fun to try to bounce the balls into the egg carton and get them to land in the holes.  The perfect trash to toddler treasure!

Sorting and Color Matching with Egg Cartons

I always buy a few extra sets of plastic eggs at Easter from the Dollar Store to keep on hand for activities year round.


Most recently, both girls had great fun doing this simple sorting activity.  I gave Lil’ M a six egg carton and Big M a dozen egg carton.  They got enough plastic egg shells to fill the holes, as well as color coordinating pom poms.  They matched the colors to the shells, then closed up the eggs.


Colander with Pipe Cleaners

This is one of our fine motor skill favorites – I keep an old colander with a missing leg in the pot cabinet in the kitchen, along with a handful of pipe cleaners.


Big M still, and now Lil’ M also, pull it out whenever they feel like it and play.  It’s great for occupying them on the kitchen floor while I finish pulling dinner together or cleaning up.  Lil’ M focuses just to put the pipe cleaners in the various holes, while Big M now works to create things with the the colander as the base.


Cardboard Box

The possibilities for entertainment with a cardboard box are literally endless.  I have fond memories of imaginative play for days when I was a kid and my parents had to get a new refrigerator – that box was everything from a playhouse to a rocket ship to a ship and then some, until it literally fell down around us.  My girls favorite day of the month is the Amazon Subscribe and Save Delivery Day – it means a new giant box to play with!

Self-Contained Art Gallery

Even better than the Massive Floor Murals, the Self-Contained Art Gallery in a giant box is great because it helps contain the mess and protects your walls from any potential straying markers.  They both will literally sit in the box and color for an hour or more.


Cardboard Box Car

Sometimes, we turn our monthly subscription box into props for imaginative play… like this Cardboard Box Car.  For a fancier version than ours and How To instructions, check out this post from The Military Wife and Mom.

1st Box Car

Play House

If we get a taller box, sometimes we turn it into a play house – some days it’s a castle, other times it’s a cabin.  And at Christmas, we made our very own Life Size Gingerbread House.

Invitation to Paint - Lil'M Paints Cardboard Box CastleBox-stume

We’ve even turned boxes into wearable costumes… like these great ones that came with directions and pre-decorated from Lowe’s.  But you can create your own versions as well!


Magic of Magnets

Water bottles always make for great toys – even when they are empty.  But if you fill it up with multi-colored pieces of pipe cleaners, it can become an awesome introduction to magnets for your toddler.  See this great post from Frugal Fun 4 Boys.

Color Match Can

My girls both loved the colander and pipe cleaners.  As they got older, I added another dimension of difficulty with this Color Match Can.  I punched holes in the lid of an empty oatmeal canister, used a reinforcement on each hole that I colored to match my assorted pipe cleaners, and then told them they had to put the pipe cleaners in through the hole that matched.  Big M still enjoys this one, and Lil’ M is still working on matching her colors.


Ring Toss

What kid doesn’t love playing with an empty cardboard tube?  My girls fight over the empty paper towel rolls.  Whether pretending it’s a trumpet, a megaphone or a telescope, they can provide hours of entertainment.  I really like this active activity from A Little Learning For Two, which can be played indoors or out, and only requires a paper towel roll and paper plates!

What is your toddler’s favorite DIY toy?  What recyclables make the best toys at your house? If you loved this post, be sure to check out our first book, Green, Crafty & Creative – featuring 70 eco-friendly crafts and activities for families!


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to follow all my Trash to Craft, Toddler and Preschool boards on Pinterest!

DIY Toddler Toys Collage


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15 Ways to Remove the Grump From Your Day - Playground Parkbench June 16, 2015 - 3:57 pm

[…] This often involves the couch cushions above, as well as yoga mats and ottomans for climbing and crawling.  Other times, we’ve drawn our own outdoors with sidewalk chalk or indoors on craft paper, like our Shape Walk. […]

Cass May 16, 2015 - 2:28 pm

Great ideas – Thanks for linking up with this week’s #FabulouslyFrugal x x

Melissa French, The More With Less Mom May 11, 2015 - 6:20 pm

They play with boxes anyways, you can’t stop them! Thanks for posting. Hello from Fabulously Frugal Linky.

Ali Gilbert May 9, 2015 - 9:19 pm

Great ideas! I love the video of stepping on the shapes- so cute! Thanks for sharing on #ToddlerFunFriday

My Bored Toddler May 9, 2015 - 8:39 am

What a great round up of activities! Thanks for sharing on #ToddlerFunFriday

Stef May 7, 2015 - 11:27 pm

Nice collection! The recycling bin has always fascinated my boys and they can find something of interest for them in there.


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