So you have a collection of takeaway coffee trays you haven’t got around to returning to the local café, or notice the recycling box is filling up faster everyday. Why not use it for craft activities!

Maybe you’re just sick of buying expensive toys that you end up keeping for way too long because it seems like such a waste to throw them out even if they’re not getting used.

A cheap (free) thing to do with your child is to do ‘junk play’. It uses up materials you find around the house and the best part is, if you let your child just play rather than tell them what to do, it’s super good for their development.

This type of creative play helps them develop maths skills, concentration, problem solving and more.

Just remember the child should lead – which gives you a chance to fold the washing, clean the bath or put your feet up for a well deserved break, though stick within earshot so you can help when required and make sure the glue isn’t being used to attach the cat to the wall.

How to do it:

Let them just play without having to make something

It’s important that kids have a chance to just play with the items, don’t force them to make anything out of it.

You may find they decide the paper towel roll is a telescope, a rolling pin, or a sword. Or they might just like to smell or stroke a piece of fabric. Let them.

You’re helping them develop their creativity by not helping them at all.

How to supervise without taking over

Introduce glue, paint, string, and tape but rather than guide the child into making something specific, let them decide what they want to do for themselves. Of course you’ll be on hand to help them if they ask but try not to instruct them too much.

They may also need scissors so you’ll need to either supervise, or help them with this if they’re a toddler.

Ask them to explain what it is

You may see a lump of wood with a couple of milk bottle tops glued to it but as your child explains what it is and how it works you might be surprised at their genius – or at least understand where they’ve gone with it.

Using a technique called reflecting rather than leading is also a good approach.

This is when you say something like ‘I like the way you’ve attached that long piece to that flat bit’ rather than ‘Is that the giraffe’s neck?’ This allows the child the freedom to ‘just create’ without having to ‘make something’ and avoids that awkward moment when you assume it’s a gorilla and it’s actually granny.

You can use most things you’d normally just chuck, so have a think before you throw something away. It might just pay to hang onto it for a rainy day. Here are some suggestions:

  • Boxes of all shapes and sizes.
  • Wool or fabric (you can cut it up or help them do it if they’re old enough).
  • Old buttons (or pick up a variety of cheap ones from a local discount shop).
  • Paper towel rolls (avoid toilet rolls in case of contamination).
  • Dried leaves or flowers.
  • You can also collect egg shells and milk bottle tops but make sure you wash and sterilise them (drying them in the sun will do this).

Do you let your kids go wild with craft? Share in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
  • I think this is a wonderful idea to inspire creativity.


  • I sure do! Glue, paint, glitter, modelling clay, scissors, textas, pencils, paper, toilet roll holders, old cards, old magazines…..you name it. I give it to them and leave them to it. Lots of mess, but lots of fun too


  • Such good ideas and help information!


  • I do…..and boy do they make a mess! But they love it, I love it, so a mess is ok


  • Great article.
    Looking forward at doing craft activities with my boy, when he is old enough.


  • Great article. I love to encourage creativity. My middle one now applies it to everything. Lego, craft kits, etc may as well have no instructions as he is going to ignore them and make what he wants anyway.


  • Love doing crafts


  • This is a huge saver in winter for tainy days not only are these great for fine motor skill development but keeps the kids busy when they can’t get out to play!


  • I think it ticks all the boxes…..it reduces your waste and adds to recycling. It develops children creativity and most of all it gives your children time with you. Sometimes that is the most precious thing of all. Giving them your attention!


  • great ideas and very good to think about


  • This reminds me of the montessori approach to learning. Also creativity is beneficial to all age groups not just toddlers but I will be starting to adopt these ideas with my toddler to instill creative thinking!!


  • What a great post. I believe imagination is essential to the developing brain


  • Being creative should be nurtured and encouraged … just like sports


  • I’ve just introduced paint to my daughter and she loved it. We have made salt dough plaques before and are going to again. I live homemade gifts and so does my daughters nanna so she will be getting a homemade painted birthday card this year.


  • Yes being creative allows the childs mind to grow.


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