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Upcycled Kids Toys

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by Jane Street (subscribe)
Check out my creative activity ideas for kids at
Published December 5th 2012
Cheaper, greener and much more fun than pink plastic
Workbench from
Workbench from Lily's Clever Mummy (image courtesy of Lily's Clever Mummy webpage)

When you have children it's easy to spend a fortune amassing a mountain of plastic tat. Why not do things differently this Christmas and create (or buy) some unique playthings made from "upcycled" junk which would otherwise be destined for the dump? You'll save money and have a smaller impact on the environment whilst getting that feel good factor from making something unique for your children. Even better, you could spend time on a project together and have fun making as well as playing once it's finished.

Here are a few easy ideas to get started:

Try converting an old piece of furniture into a play space. You could use an old desk, bookcase or TV cabinet to make into a shop, kitchen, coffee shop or anything else you can dream up. Freecycle is a great website where people post items they want to give away for free that would otherwise be dumped - this is the perfect way to pick up your starting materials for free. There is a Freecycle group in many cities worldwide. I made a shop with a petrol station from an old desk unit a neighbour gave me around the time of Kerbside Collections, and added an old hose nozzle on a string for the petrol pump. This only took a few hours to make and cost nothing.

upcycled play shop
Play Shop upcycled from an old desk unit

If you can pick up some old moving boxes, it's easy to make a play house by cutting out windows and doors. There are hours of extra fun to be had by getting the children to decorate the house inside and out.

cardboard cubby house
Cardboard Cubby House

If you're looking for a quick and easy project and you're short on space, you could try making a simple doll's house with some old cardboard boxes. My daughter and I converted a plain black fruit box into an apartment for her doll by cutting and sticking pictures from the IKEA catalogue. We had a lot of fun choosing "furniture" for each room.

homemade dolls house IKEA
Quick and easy dolls apartment from fruit box and pictures from IKEA catalogue

If you love the idea of upcycling but don't have the time or creative energy to make your own, check out your local markets for something ready made. I love the work by "Lily's Clever Mummy" in Brisbane.

Leanne Cox makes wonderful retro kitchens, fridges and workbenches out of vintage cabinets. Each one is unique and made to order so you can help her design your item by choosing your own colour scheme and any bespoke elements you would like her to incorporate.

Leanne even uses Mistint paint (custom paint which was previously rejected at a retailer as it did not colour match). Her creations are definitely much more fun than your average plastic play kitchen. Check out her Facebook page for more details or visit her at the Billycart Markets.

Lilys Clever Mummy Upcycled Play Kitchens
Upcycled Play Kitchens from Lily's Clever Mummy (photo courtesy of Lily's Clever Mummy webpage)

What have you created by upcycling? - Share your ideas in the comments forum below.
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Update February 14th 2013
You can now check out some other ideas at MyKidCraft. Here is a link to my doll's supermarket made from disposable razor cartridges and a shoe box.
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Why? Cheaper, greener and more fun than plastic tat
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Great review. I love your ideas, so creative and I'm sure loved by your daughter more than a bought toy. I like the idea of upcycling together
by Oxford Explorer (score: 2|655) 2800 days ago
Wow, these look amazing and much more fun than boring old plastic. Fab idea and article
by titte (score: 1|71) 2800 days ago
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