Do-It-Yourself or DIY projects are a growing trend in households everywhere. There are books, blogs and websites (such as the ever famous Pinterest) dedicated to the subject.  It even has its own TV network.  Aside from the trend, the DIY movement is focused on bringing people back to the basics of living simply in a time when convenience and instant gratification seem to be our highest priority.

One way families can benefit from the DIY experience is to make toys for children out of objects already lying around the home.  Since the DIY movement encourages craftiness, creativity and thinking outside the box, parents do not need technical skills or access to expensive supplies.  The possibilities are endless and the creative process will provide a new appreciation for how children play with toys.

Here is a list of common household items that you and your children can use to make toys at home:

Two-liter bottles

  • Use as a container to make homemade bubbles out of dish soap and water.
  • Make rockets or submarines for older children and decorate them using puff paint or glitter.
  • Make a baseball bat by securing an 18-inch dowel rod inside the bottle and securing it with a wood screw and duct tape.  Use with wiffle or Nerf® balls.


  • Any size can be made into a shape sorter by cutting out different shapes in the top of the box to fit small items of various shapes, like blocks and balls.
  • Make a bank to store money by cutting a coin slot in the top of the box.  Have your child decorate the bank with crafting items.
  • Use boxes as stacking cubes to build a fort or a playhouse.  Large appliance boxes can be the most fun!
  • Create a “busy box” and fill it with art and craft supplies, coloring and activity books and crayons, laminated photos of family members, legos and any other activities to keep your children occupied.  Children can also help decorate their own boxes and choose their favorite activities to put in the box.

PVC pipe can be used to make different runs and tunnels for marbles races.  An empty detergent bottle can easily be made into a car.  An oatmeal container can double as a drum.  Think of the possibilities for a sensory table – rice, beans, small items—these can all be combined in a plastic container to offer children a whole new sensory experience.

DIY projects can be as simple or complex as the parent chooses to make it.  Children love pots and pans and wooden spoons just as much as an actual drum set, at least in the early years.  For families on a tight budget, it is not necessary to spend money on fancy toys for kids.  Finding the objects around the house to make the toys is part of the fun!  Creativity has no bounds and this is a great opportunity for parents to involve their children in activities.

The next time you hear the words “I am bored” come out of your child’s mouth, build a blanket fort, become a rock band, make ramps and obstacle courses for balls and cars out of cereal boxes and paper towel rolls, use leaves and marbles to paint a masterpiece—and give children the tools to use their imaginations.

What is your favorite DIY toy project?

Amy Bontempo is the Manager of Family and Community Engagement at Penfield Children’s Center.  She supervises the Community Outreach Educator, Volunteer Coordinator,  Parent Mentor Program, and Family Programs of which Penfield host over 60 per year.  She has served on the Board of Directors for the Down Syndrome Association (DSAW) of Wisconsin since 2011 and previously served on the Volunteer Respite Committee for Children’s Service Society now part of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services, and the Family Resource Connection of Milwaukee Co.

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