Breathing New Life into Old Toys

My son turned 5 a few months ago, and I decided that it was time to go through and weed out some of the baby toys he hadn’t played with in ages. As I was going through different items, I came to a toy phone, the kind with large push button numbers. I started to add it to the donate pile, but then had the best idea. We could use it to help teach his phone number! It was like a light flipped on. What other uses could some of these old toys have?

The lesson? Many of the objects gathering dust in your toy box can actually be transformed into fresh and exciting playthings with a little imagination and a bit of guidance. So before you hit the stores this holiday season for shiny new toys, here are a few ways to breathe new life into old toys.

Switch it, change it

Your son’s toy car collection might be languishing in the closet, but with some nudging, he can figure out new ways to play. For instance, he could build a racetrack or a garage to “work” on his cars. Along those same lines, you could help transform a neglected wagon into an ambulance for the doll hospital.

Sometimes changing just one tiny part of a toy can make it seem new and fun to a toddler or preschooler. Jazz up a tired easel by adding glittery new paints, or get more months out of an old tricycle by attaching a sharp new basket or fun horn.

“Toddlers are very interested in anything slightly off or with a funny spin,” says Maureen O’Brien, Ph.D., director of parenting and child development at the website “Once you get your child used to thinking creatively, he’ll be more likely to do it on his own, without your help.”

Donate and Recycle

It’s always a great lesson to teach kids about generosity. Help your toddler go through her toys and assess which ones might be better suited for another child who is less fortunate. Hopefully, they will learn about giving back and caring for others, but chances are that some of those previously forgotten toys will never make it to the giveaway pile. Instead of parting with them, your child may start playing with them again.

Another way to recycle toys is to hold a toy swap. Other families are not strangers to the old toy dilemma. Get together with some friends or neighbors and gather up all the toys your kiddo doesn’t play with. Exchange the toys among yourselves and come home with new-to-you toys for your little one.

Stash it Away

Holiday decorations like your Christmas tree are so exciting because we only see them once per year. Toys can follow suit. Build a collection of “special” toys, like a set of dolls, tea set or certain videos that your kids can only play with when they have friends over, or on rainy days, etc. Your child will be so excited because they don’t see these things every day.

New Name

Sometimes it’s not what the toy is, it’s what you call it. When my daughter was small, she didn’t like playing with blocks. “Blocks are for babies,” she would say. But one day I sat in the floor with her and started building a castle with her block set. When she asked what I was making I told her it was a beautiful palace with her “castle-building set.” From that day forward, all blocks at our house were part of our castle-building set, and we create new homes for all her little toy animals. “What’s in a name?” apparently means a lot to preschoolers.

Get Creative

Another strategy to revive your kid’s toy stash is to arrange items in unexpected groupings. For example, put all the green or orange toys together. It leads kids to think about things in new ways. Ask them how they would group the toys differently. Not only are you getting mileage out of old toys, but you’re encouraging creativity and problem-solving — lessons you can’t put a price tag on.

Categories: Babies & Toddlers