Play Ideas

Trash to Treasure: 6 Recycled Materials to Add to Your Child’s Play

April 21, 2023
Preschool kids play with building bricks in while sitting on floor in daycare

Learning through play can happen with the simplest materials. Before you recycle your plastic bottles and cardboard boxes, try adding them to your child’s play! Objects like these are open-ended, which means there’s no limit to what they can become when your child starts to play. Your baby may reach for and grab them and explore them from different angles. Your toddler may start to put things inside and dump them back out, and your preschooler might pretend the box is a boat and the bottle is treasure they found at sea! What ever way your child decides to play, they will be learning. Open-ended materials allow children to use their imagination, problem solve, test theories, and much more. Here are 6 recycled materials to add to your child’s play!

Some of these objects are small and may not be suitable for all ages. You know your child best, please use your judgement when providing recycled materials.


Metal and plastic lids recycled for play and paired with a tissue box, drying rack and muffin tin.

Lids are a fun open-ended toy that are easy to overlook. Pair them with a tissue box, drying rack, or muffin tin to play! You can add them to sensory play (like sand or water) or pair them with other toys like blocks, cars, and dolls.

Plastic Bottles

Clear, plastic bottles make for great sensory play! You can make the sensory bottle for your child, or you can make it together. The best thing about these bottles is you can add almost aything!

Child pouring glitter into a recycled plastic water bottle for sensory play.

Suggestions to add to your sensory bottles:

  • Water (add food colouring and/or glitter if you would like)
  • Ice or cold water
  • Dry pasta, rice, lentils or beans
  • Sand
  • Craft pom poms
  • Buttons

Close the bottle and add a little bit of tape around the lid for extra security, then EXPLORE! Children can explore what they see, hear, or feel (like the cold temperature!) with these sensory bottles.

Tissue Paper

Tissue paper comes in lots of colours and it can be moved and manipulated in so many ways.

Colourful tissue paper laid out flat and in a gift bag.

Your child might play with tissue paper by:

  • Grabbing and scrunching
  • Shaking it
  • Ripping it into pieces
  • Scrunching it into a ball (and throwing the ball!)
  • Stuffing it in a box or bag (then pulling the paper out)

They will be listening to different sounds the tissue paper makes while observing the changes in the texture and shape.

Carboard Tubes

Three photos of recycled cardboard tubes used in play.

Toilet paper, paper towel, masking tape and ribbon rolls are just some of the cardboard tubes we are so quick to toss. Try holding onto them for all kinds of fun! They can be used to lace with string, build structures, make a telescope/binoculars, build a ramp, and much more.

Packing Peanuts

Packin peanuts, water, toothpicks and popsicle sticks are used to build structures.

A lot of packing peanuts are made of cornstarch, which means when they get wet, they get a little sticky. This can be a lot of fun for building! Dip one side of the packing peanut into water and attach it to another to start building a structure. You can also use toothpicks and popsicle sticks to attach the packing peanuts. However they play, your child will have lots of opportunities to be creative and problem solve.

Cardboard Boxes (big and small!)

Child uses crayons to scribble and colour a large cardboard box.

There is no limit to the amount of ways children can play with a cardboard box. A box can be turned into a 3-D canvas to paint and scribble on, it can become a car or an airplane or a treasure chest! Click here for 6 fun ways to play with a cardboard box.


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