With summer right around the corner and kids home a lot more than usual, many of us need to keep a few tricks in our back pocket for rainy days or those occasions when we feel like we might lose our minds.
This Quick Trick is certainly a keeper; it’s all about what kinds of recyclables parents should keep–and how they can use them with their kids–for unusual, free, earth-friendly fun.
Many of my friends have said, Seriously, Amy, why didn’t I think of saving those yogurt cups? or Smart idea to use those play-doh containers for sand toys–who cares if you lose one, right? And I’m totally not sharing this to toot my own horn; I’m sharing it because these are things we all can do–things we all can save and bring back to life in new and exciting ways for our kids.
I grew up with an extremely creative and resourceful mom–she kept things most people didn’t keep and taught us to use them in cool, new ways. We played with buttons, ribbons, material, and boxes like they were million dollar toys. Don’t get me wrong; we had Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbies and Legos, but sometimes, the ‘untoys’ were just as cool.
And if you are interested in having this in one happy, printable list, either print the post or scroll to the end.
- Lids: Any and all lids, from milk cartons to juice containers, from peanut butter jars to fluff containers.
- Why: They live a double life–no joking. They start out as lids and then morph into toys and learning games. Use them for:
- Sorting: by colors, shapes, sizes, textures. Throw pieces of colored construction paper on the floor and help your little one match the colored lids to the correct color paper.
- Throwing: experiment with gross motor practice (in a safe environment). Use some bowls or plates as targets, and see how many make it to the designated point.
- Playing math games: assign bowls, cups, and containers point values, put initials inside the lids, and keep score!
- Letter games and word building: with a few alphabet stickers stuck on (or written on with a permanent marker) these little lids spells F-U-N.
- Building: throw a pile on the table or floor and challenge your kids to create. They will.
- Play-doh Containers: If you buy the stuff in the yellow containers, keep them.
- Why: Kids not only love cleaning them in a big, soapy celebration on a hot summer day, but these things are perfect for:
- Using in the sand or dirt: who cares if you lose them or if another family takes them home?
- Holding beads, sequins, stickers-anything small: use chopsticks or tongs to move objects from one place to another for fine motor practice. Have kids move pom-poms, beads, buttons, cottonballs, whatever.
- Taking them to the pool: throw these pups into your pool bag for baby pool especially–because, again, you won’t care if you lose them, and it will boggle your mind how kids will reach for them.
Clean the play-doh containers and save the lids–add them to your lid collection!
- Yogurt Containers: Any size, but we love the small Yoplait and Danonino ones
- Why: Run them through the dishwasher, and the possibilities for these guys are endless:
- Snack holders: perfect for tiny hands, stacking together, throwing in a ziplock, and dishing out at park playdates.
- Stackables, pyramid-builders: how many can your kids stack up and how sturdy can they make a pyramid on the kitchen floor?
- Counting games: throw numbers on the bottom, mix them up, and have kids put them in order!
- Spelling, and letter games: same as with numbers, but add letters!
- Tissue paper flower vases: when you want to make flowers that last forever, you can make a little something pretty with them.
- Water dishes for painting or crafting: they hold up remarkably well, and everyone knows when it’s time to change the water.
- Shakers: add some tiny beads, some ribbon, and stick two together for a shakin’ good time.
- Pretend play: add these to your play kitchen as bowls for kids or pets!
- Paper rolls: Paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, any rolls will do
- Why: Use them for fun, crafty, unusual ways:
- Making family dolls: print out pictures or glue old ones onto a paper roll and have a few good laughs
- Talking about emotions with kids: same as above but make sure the photos show different emotions–happy, angry, sad, surprised–and do some role-playing, talking about emotions and how to handle them
- Target practice: (thanks to my pal, MaryLea of Pink and Green Mama) decorate some rolls, then set them up outside and squirt away!!
- Print making: (again, thanks to MaryLea) cut rolls into about 4-5 pieces, fold into different shapes (think diamond, clover, flower petal, etc) dip in paint, and print!
Kids have to be so careful with them when they’re full that they love to have egg cartons as playthings. . .
- Egg cartons: Keep them, keep them, keep them! Kids love these!
- Why: With the tiny little compartments already built in, these are great for sorting, playing, cutting, and combining.
- Color sorting: you know we love any excuse to play with candy over here, so this combined candy, colors, and chopsticks and let the kids move candy from one bowl to designated compartments inside an egg carton.
- Tiny things holder: Cora loves to cut paper and store the pieces inside, in different compartments
Color Hunts are more fun with recycled jars to keep colors separate.
- Jars: From pickles, rice, peppers, baby food, whatever, whether glass or plastic, jars can–and have–been re-used for years.
- Why: Have kids clean them out in soapy water, and let them start collecting!
- Outside color hunt: (or inside, if you choose!) Label each jar a different color and hunt for items outside to put into each jar. Perfect for a cooler day or one that’s rainy and grey–just bring in inside.
- Spend, Save, and Give jars: to teach your kiddos smart money sense and have them put aside a certain percent of their money in each jar–maybe 60% save; 30% spend; 10% give?
- Gem Jars: play on positive behavior and try something new. Award kiddos a ‘gem’ for each awesome behavior caught by you! When gem jars are full, it’s time for a small celebration or reward.
Once, a coffee can. Now, a park explorer kit. . .
- Coffee Cans: plastic or tin, keep these for sure.
- Why: They’re big, sturdy, and they’ve got tight-fitting lids. Just make sure to clean them thoroughly so that kids don’t complain about coffee smell.
- Coffee-can stilts: poke holes through the bottom of the can and tie strong yarn or string through, making sure it reaches hands. Then–with support and watchful eyes–let your kids try to walk! (Gulp.)
- Park explorer kits: soon to be shared on PBS Parents, essentially this is an all-in-one park explorer kit that fits happily inside a coffee can.
- Cardboard Box: In any size, these are more fun than you’d expect for kids of almost any age.
- Why: Either with some prompting and focus, or just with free play, boxes can be houses, cars, games, or learning materials.
- Sensory Box: one of my kids’ favorite guessing games, playing with senses. Players take turns hiding an object in the box and having their friend guess what’s inside, using only their sense of touch.
- Shoelace Box: teach little ones to tie shoes or even to braid using a cardboard shoe box (and check out the linky below the shoelace box post to read 50 other ways of using cardboard boxes for learning and play!
A few other things to think about before you toss them:
- Kid plates: we love these as divided craft palates, as holders for paint and/or water, or for bead sorting.
- Bottle caps: for ornaments, for bingo markers, for pretty ornaments or bookmarks.
- Tiny tins: from mints, sweets, or gum, these are great to keep. Who knows when your kids will ask to go on a teeny, tiny hunt?
- Toothbrushes: yes, for making painting CRA-ZY fun! Draw a big, ole mouth and have kids paint really clean teeth–or really dirty teeth.
- Milk cartons: the gallon ones, to make bird feeders, of course.
- Paint swatches: from the paint store, from the days of trying desperately to figure out the best color for your playroom. I used cardstock in this activity with paperclips, but use paint swatches!
What recyclables does your family keep and how do you use them?
Let’s make this Quick Trick everyone’s Quick Trick and share your ways of using recyclables for games, crafts, and learning. Take a sec to leave a comment here or link back to one of your recycled-item posts!