Making toys yourself is really enjoyable, especially if you aim for simple toys for pre-school age kids. As well as being a rewarding pastime, it’s a green initiative that helps protect the environment by recycling all sorts of household materials that would probably just end up in landfill. All sorts of odds and ends can be reused to make toys and if you do it well they cou ld even become the treasured heirlooms and prized antiques of future generations.
Soft toys are really easy to make. Rag dolls, made from scraps of material or old clothes, have been lovingly made for children for over two thousand years. Toy manufacturer’s mass produce rag dolls to look like the traditional home made originals, but you can make your own for almost nothing. Even better, you can personalize it for the recipient, to make a gift that will be truly loved. To house miniature dolls, make a doll’s house out of cardboard boxes stuck together to make different rooms and wallpapered with old gift wrap.
Stuffed animals are also easy to make; you can use furry material for authenticity. With home-made toys you can make absolutely sure that the stuffing is from organic, non-toxic materials. Old pantyhose and scraps of wool make perfect stuffing. To make bendy toys, use bits of old flexible wire as a ‘skeleton’. Glove puppets and sock puppets are also simple to make for younger children (here’s a use for those perfectly good socks that have mysteriously lost their mate!).
Wood off cuts are also ripe for recycling into toys that will last. A length of square wood can be sawed into blocks, sanded smooth and decorated with alphabet letters, numbers in bright colors, and images. If you’re handy with a saw then you can make your own simple wooden jigsaws, by pasting and varnishing attractive images onto plywood sheets. For a quicker version, you can do the same thing with stiff cardboard. Just add a picture and cut it up!
With some lateral thinking you should be able to find ways of recycling plastic into toys too. Flat bits of flexible plastic in bright colors can easily be made into pinwheels that will spin in the wind when mounted on a stick. You can make plastic bottles into cars, with the bottle tops as wheels. Use phthalate-bottles.
For older children, getting them involved in making toys does double duty – and it’s an opportunity to teach them about recycling stuff. You can make a kaleidoscope from an old tube, a broken mirror and glass beads or bits of transparent plastic. Musical instruments can be fun too. Plastic bottles filled with something rattly (and non-toxic), with a handle, make great maracas. In fact, the possibilities for green toys are endless – it’s mainly a question of imagination and seeing the potential of materials before they go in the trash.