Toy Treasures: Making Toys and Games from Recycled Items
One of our past conference speakers, occupational therapist Barbara Sher, has written a number of great books about play and how to makes games and toys out of recycled materials. When she presented for us, she asked our conference delegates to pick and choose items from a list to bring to the workshop. Most of us could find all of these items around home – newspapers, magazines, masking tape, string, old scarves, egg cartons, boxes, socks, beans, wool, buttons, cans, water bottles, rope etc. We then got into groups, put our heads together, and made toys and played games with these items. It was a really creative and fun afternoon!
In my experience, most children, including those on the spectrum, don’t need expensive toys to be engaged and learn. When children come to us with a diagnosis (learning disabled, autism, global delays, Down Syndrome), we often think we have to buy special equipment to use with them. Not so! I once took a workshop on making toys and games from recycled and everyday household items and was amazed by how much you can do with simple, inexpensive items.
It’s easy to lose our ability to play and create amidst technology, products, and gadgets. While I think these things have their place, I’m always surprised to see the creative and clever ways you could use items you have lying around your house.
How do you know what to make your autistic child?
Find out what motivates them
The great thing about making your own toys and games is you can tailor-make something to suit a child’s interest. Anyone who works with a child often enough will know what motivates and appeals to them. If you aren’t sure or you don’t know the child well, take some time and observe the child in action.
Key into their interests
Do they love shiny things? What is their favorite color? Do they mind getting their hands dirty or wet? What do they play with – trucks, figurines, blocks?
Use music and singing
Most children like music and enjoy singing so working songs into play, games and routines can help with speech, memory, motivation, or create predictability.
Make what they need in the moment, without having to find that special toy
The advantage of do-it-yourself is you can create what is necessary to suit a child’s needs in that moment. Do they need a body break? You can quickly find items in your house that will get your child using their body (see the toy ideas below). Do they need something soothing to hold? Again, with observation you will know what kind of items your child would appreciate fiddling with and be able to find something around the house.
Allow them to practice skills
If a child gets involved in making toys, they practice many different skills such as cutting, pasting, stacking, sorting, colouring, holding and grasping different utensils, writing and various other fine motor skills. Toys can incorporate aspects of curriculum too.
Involve the sensory systems
Using the sensory systems happens too in the play process. Play can involve visual tracking, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, gross motor skills like jumping and hopping, tactile awareness through touching different textures, or playing hidden object games like feel what is in the box and try to guess what it is. Auditory skills can be worked on by placing different objects inside a toilet paper roll, sealing the ends, then shaking the tube and trying to guess what’s inside. The possibilities are endless!
Playing works on important social skills such as turn taking, cooperation, and reciprocity.
Play is powerful, and an integral part of learning. Taking time in the day to play. Adding music and physical activity to play helps with child development. Most of us learn better by doing and if the learning process is presented in a novel, fun and meaningful way, we’re more likely to retain the information. Collaborating with others in creative play also brings out the best in everyone in the room. Two heads are better than one and in this case, several were!
Simple Toy Ideas You Can Try At Home
- Why not make a ball out of crumpled up newspaper and masking tape and play a game? I saw one group make a hoop out of newspaper rolled into tubes and taped and toss the ball in several different ways into the hoop.
- Take a toilet paper role and place an object inside. Cover both ends and then let your child shake the tube and try to guess what it is. You can also place objects in a bag, and let your child reach in to feel it, and try to guess what’s inside. These ideas also work in groups, and can teach cooperative play. Let your child get you to guess as well!
- I saw one group take their newspaper balls that they had made and play a question/answer game based in a science unit. You could toss the ball to a child and say, “Name something that begins with the letter a” and when they catch the ball, they could say their answer. A child’s interest in toys and games may increase too when they become part of the creative and construction process.
- One woman at one of our workshops made her own version of Mr. Potato Head with a paper bag stuffed with newspaper. She made different eyes and mouth expressions using the lids of jars and juice cans. These could be taken on and off the face to show different emotions. Some people made puppets out of lunch bags but added textured items for sensory play such as yarn, foil, buttons or beads.
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