Play with Free Stuff: No Batteries Required!
You can’t walk down the toy aisle without seeing numerous toys that light up, do tricks, or play music. It seems like these digital-age toys are the latest and greatest for children; however, this may not actually be the case. The problem with toys like this is that they may be good at what they do, but that’s all they can do!
For instance, a toy cell phone with buttons that produce responses can be a fun way for your child to pretend to talk on his own phone, but its function is so specialized that it limits your child’s ability to imagine other uses. By contrast, a rectangular piece of cardboard from an old box can be a cell phone, a remote control, a toy boat or car, a doll’s bed—even a shopping list. A piece of recycled cardboard is an open-ended material. Open-ended materials have an infinite number of uses, limited only by your child’s imagination. By giving your child recycled, open-ended materials to play with, not only are you fostering her creativity and problem-solving skills, but you are saving money, as well.
Here are some easy-to-find items that can be used as toys:
Toilet paper and paper towel rolls - From binoculars to towers to bowling pins, there are many things that can be created with these cardboard cylinders.
Boxes - Everyone jokes that babies like the box more than the toy that comes in it. Why not make the box the toy! Children can play inside boxes, create forts with them, use them for cribs for their baby dolls, and much more.
Egg cartons - Children like to collect things. An egg carton serves as the perfect place to sort a collection of pebbles by size or buttons by color. It can be a swimming pool for a small doll or a roof for a house built of blocks. The possibilities are endless.
Plastic bottles - They’re musical instruments. They’re cylindrical blocks, baseball bats, treasure holders, and other things we can’t begin to predict.
There are many, many items you dispose of every day that could be perfect toys for your young child. The next time you’re in the toy aisle and are tempted by the flashing lights and talking teddy bears, think about checking your recycling bin and introducing an item with the potential to be whatever your child imagines.
Toni Sturdivant, PhD, is the vice president of early education at Camp Fire First Texas. She earned a PhD in interdisciplinary learning and teaching with a cognate in early childhood education. In addition, she has a master’s degree in early childhood and elementary education with a specialization in child development. She earned a BA in linguistics with a minor in African and African American studies. Dr. Sturdivant has taught prekindergarten in both an urban school district and a center- based setting, as well as kindergarten. She has served as a trainer for practicing early childhood teachers and taught preservice teachers in various institutions of higher education.