Tag Archives: toys

Upcycle Your Kids Old Toys or Shoes into Planters

Last week I was invited by Goodwill to visit Sumner, to see how small businesses there are upcycling thrift store purchases into desirable and unique household goods and clothing. I’d never been to Sumner before and was surprised to find a pretty little High Street full of independent shops selling art, antiques and other unique and interesting finds. I will definitely return, especially since it is the Rhubarb Pie Capital.

We started at Goodwill and my upcycling advisor Juli from Junkers Nest, helped me choose interesting items that could be turned into planters. The great thing about buying from Goodwill is that all the store profits go to helping career path job training for the unemployed and disadvantaged.

Goodwill Puyallup Treasure Hunting 01

I wanted to choose something that would appeal to my kids or would be cool decor for a preschool so we went for the toy section.  Old toy cars, toy animals with a hole cut in them or small dolls houses would all make great planters. It would also be a great way to save the environment from the multitude of plastic toys thrown away every year.

I plumped for a Halloween theme and chose a Monster High coffin. I also chose a pair of baby shoes. Sadly, I threw out all my baby shoes when I moved to the US (including the ones featured in my logo), if only I hadn’t, I could have turned them into something like this.


shoe planter

At Blue the Goodwill Boutique, I found this little table and chairs and an old tea set at Junkers Nest.

small table and chairs

My intention, once the rainy season is over, is to plant in the little cups and put it out in the garden. For now the girls have commandeered it for their American girl dolls.

We spent the day gaining inspiration for upcycling goods from Inta Vintage . By the end my mind was racing with ideas of how to upcycle some of my old furniture.

At VanLierop Garden Market the ladies worked their magic to turn our items into planters.

VanLierop Garden 05

The kids helped me make some extra embellishments and here is the finished article displayed (a little early) ready for Hallowe’en.

coffin planter made from toy

Inspired by some of the other bloggers projects, on our thrift shopping trip to buy birthday presents for their dad, the girls looked for items to turn into planters

We chose a pot and my daughter painted it with her own design.

upcycled planter

I’m looking forward to many more trips with the girls as we find fun items to upcycle for family and teacher gifts.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, sponsored by Goodwill WA.

pinterest upcycling toys and shoes




What Toys Should I Provide for Babies and Toddlers?

Toy shop shelves are laden with toys claiming to be educational. For toddlers and babies, this usually means something noisy, requiring batteries.  I have always held that there is little educational value in such toys. In my experience children play with them for a short period of time before moving on to something else.

Alison Gopnik discusses the manner in which children experiment with toys in her book the Philosophical Baby.   A toy that  worked by moving levers was presented to a group of 4-year-olds.  The adults demonstrated to the first group, how it worked, while  the second group were left to work it out for themselves.  The second group spent significantly more time playing with the toy than the first, who quickly abandoned it once they understood its function.

Another recent study led by Professor Anna Sosa of Northern Arizona University  focused on children between the ages of 10 and 16 months old. She gave families three different kinds of toys to play with; books, traditional toys like stacking blocks and electronic toys. The toys that stimulated most conversation were books, closely followed by blocks. The families playing with the electronic toy shared very little conversation, allowing the toy to do the talking for them.

If you are considering which toys to buy for a young child, these points may help.

  • The most important resource we can give to babies and toddlers is ourselves. Spend time playing tickling games, singing to them, playing rhyming games, blowing bubbles or rolling a ball.
  • Other suitable toys for babies and early toddlers include small musical instruments for exploring sound ( saucepans, spoons and homemade shakers work equally well), a treasure basket or board and cloth books.
  • Think about toys that they will play with for a long time.   The best  toy investments for our family include magnatiles, wooden blocks, paper and pencil, a magnetic drawing board and play food.
  • Toys do not need to be expensive. Children can have hours of fun with a balloon, pot of bubbles, home-made play dough or  a cardboard box.

The infographic below has many more developmentally appropriate ideas for play.

Helping Your Child Develop Through Play
Helping Your Child Develop Through Play by Wooden Toy Shop

Do Children Need Toys?

box sortingWe have been in the US for 6 weeks but our furniture and the majority of the childrens’ toys will not arrive for another month.  During this period we have become experts at finding things to play with from around the house.  We brought a small selection of basic toys – colouring pencils, scissors, a glue stick, paper, a ball and a few books, other than that we have made our own fun.  The other children in the street think it is strange to come to a house with no toys but if I am honest I don’t think there is a great deal that the children have missed.

I have been meaning to write a post about some of the household objects that we have played with for some time, but an article that I read yesterday made me look at it from a different perspective.  Sadaf Shallwani’s article Questioning Play and Child-Centred Approaches discusses her experience of teaching children in Pakistan.  Here, childrens’ learning was not built around pretend play but came from real experiences. Children would not learn to cook in a pretend kitchen but would be taught to use real kitchen utensils in a safe manner.

She also questions Western notions of child-centred education.  Early educators try to see the world through a child’s eyes and provide child-sized furniture and objects.  The value of using real objects is recognised in many highly-acclaimed pre-schools.  The schools of Reggio Emilia use many real-life scenarios as the basis for their projects and a colleague who visited the schools was surprised to find the children climbing onto adult-sized chairs and tables. A key philosophy of the Reggio Schools is the belief that children are capable.  With this in mind the teachers help the children to use real tools and objects. Similarly in the Danish Forest Schools that another colleague visited, young children were taught to use real tools and knives to whittle sticks and were free to roam in the woodlands and on the beach and trusted to return at the sound of a whistle.

child with archery bowI remember as a child using real objects from my kitchen to play shops and tea parties.  Toy versions of everything are so readily available these days that it is easy to be drawn into the need to buy more and more. It is also easy to fall into the trap of believing that children need adapted versions of things for their own safety. If we trust them with real things, spending time explaining the risks and demonstrating how to use them properly, children are more safety-conscious than those who do not understand the danger of the real objects.

Not having toys has been a very useful exercise.  We have used things from around the house and recycled boxes and paper to create an Olympics and a mud kitchen, we have borrowed books from the library and we have played ball games and skipping.

Here are a few other objects we have utilised:-

Pistachio Nut Shells

decorating shellsWe saved the shells from our pistachio nuts and the girls had great fun decorating them.  We coloured them so that we could make flowers and patterns and decorated some to look like ladybirds and other bugs.  My 3-year-old chose some pebbles from the garden to decorate as they weren’t quite so fiddly for her small hands.

cooking with pistachio shellsOn another occasion I gave my 1-year-old the tub of shells along with a pan, spoon and a number of containers.  She enjoyed scooping them and transporting the shells from one container to another. She also liked the sound they made as they fell onto the floor.  As she walked they stuck to her feet so I showed her how to pick them up with her toes which she thought was very funny.

Coffee Filters

coffee filter picturesI remember doing this activity in science lessons at school.  I gave the girls felt tip pens and coffee filters and asked them to draw patterns on them.

filter coffee pictures

When they had finished they were given a small pot of water and I showed them how to drip it on to the paper creating rainbow colours.


We kept newspapers and magazines with a view to making papier-mache.  The girls would like to enter a local parade on Saturday and I suggested they might be able to make papier-mache masks.

My 3-year-old had other ideas.  She decided to spread the paper across the floor. ‘I’m making a bed’ she said. making a paper bed

She had also made other things for her house by sticking boxes together

I’ve often felt that my house has been taken over by toys that the children hardly ever play with, so I’m not particularly looking forward to them all arriving.  I hope that  being creative with household objects will help us all to think about what we could use instead of buying yet another toy and maybe I can keep most of the toys in their boxes when they arrive.

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