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Upcycled Inventor's box - awesome activity for teaching kids about recycling and creativity. Be sure to get the free printable idea cards!

How to Create an Upcycled Inventor’s Box for Hours of Open-Ended Play

Have you ever noticed that no matter how many toys your kids have, they are always drawn to things like cardboard boxes and paper towel rolls? It seems that a simple box will usually entertain them longer and promote more creativity than the fanciest of store bought toys.

Rather than fight this phenomenon, just embrace it and marvel and what natural upcyclers your kids are.

Furthermore, encourage even more of this open-ended creative play by gathering those materials they like so much and creating an upcycled building box with prompt cards to get their creative juices flowing. 

use upcycled materials for hours of open-ended play

To make your own upcycled building box, start digging through your recycling bin for materials. Cereal boxes, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, berry baskets and packaging materials are some of my favorites. Once you have a nice selection of materials, put them into a box or crate so that they are ready to be used.

I continually save anything that has good building potential in our inventors box so we will always have a good selection for projects we are working on.

free printable building box prompts

Next, download the Idea Starter Cards and cut them out. Each prompt invites your child to invent something… a machine to clean their room, their ideal pet, or even a rocket ship to take them to the moon.

You can either let your child pick whichever prompt interests them or draw one from a stack. I usually let my daughter read all of the options and choose which she wants to build.

The only other materials needed are kid-safe scissors and a roll of masking tape.

How to create an upcycled building box

Now it is time to build! Explain to your children that they can use anything from the building box to make their invention. Encourage them to use the materials creatively, and make sure they know that there is no right or wrong way of doing things.

After hours and hours of working on her creation, my little one unveiled the girly robot (wearing plenty of bows and jewelry) that will be cleaning her room from now on. My favorite part is the to do list that she wrote up for the robot and attached to her purse to make sure she did everything she was supposed to. Now that is a girl after my own heart!

How to create an upcycled building box for hours of open-ended play

Here are just a few of the reasons why I love this activity so much:

  • It is absolutely free and doesn’t require a trip to the store to buy anything.
  • My daughter loves it and can easily spend 2 to 3 hours at a time, uninterrupted, working on her latest creation (which means I have time to cook dinner!)
  • The amount of thought and creativity that goes into each invention is amazing. It really teaches kids to “think outside the box”.
  • It saves so many things from the trash can or recycling bin.

It is never too early to start teaching your children to be more eco conscious, and this is a perfect opportunity to talk to them about reducing waste, recycling and upcycling.

For More Earth-Friendly Kid Activities, Check Out:

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P.S. Looking for more ways to simplify and connect with your family?


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Kaley is a photographer who spends her days starting lots of projects and finishing few of them. She lives in San Francisco with her awesomely creative daughter and her amazingly understanding husband.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mariah January 15, 2014 at 5:21 am

I LOVE this post, brilliant learning experience and such an important topic!

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Jeannie January 16, 2014 at 6:51 am

This is a wonderful activity, and I may use it for a Daisy (5-year-old Girl Scouts) activity in parallel with a lesson about going green and environmentalism.

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Rachelle January 18, 2014 at 10:58 am

What a beautifully designed activity. I adore this!

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Tes March 11, 2014 at 5:52 am

Have used junk materials in class before but adding the simple idea of an “inventors’ box” has made the kids really excited … Love it!!! Thank you.

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