A young child’s eyes light up when he or she sees something common used in a new way. A common object like a cardboard tube can become a source of fun and exploratory learning.

If you start playing simple surprise games with common household objects, your child will begin to look for creative connections in other parts of her daily activities. That is, she’ll learn, by following your lead, to think of multiple uses for one object—a key concept for good critical thinking…and it’s fun and virtually free. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Wrapping paper roll turns into a toy tunnel

  • Collect a tube from a used up roll of wrapping paper and small balls or cars. Be sure that the items are small enough to fit through the tube, but large enough to avoid causing a choking hazard.
  • Ask your child to hold the tube at an angle with one end resting on the floor.
  • Show her how to put the item in the top end and let it roll down.
  • Hold the tube for her and let her send the objects down and then encourage her to search around for other objects to go through the tunnel.
  • You can even attach a few tubes together to make it longer.

Paper towel roll becomes a new friend

Gather scissors, a paper towel roll, markers/paint and any other material for decorating.

  • Help your child use the scissors to make 6 to 8 cuts downward from the top of a paper towel roll.
  • Allow your child to pull each strip down. Show her how to bend, roll, or fold the strips.
  • Use a marker to make eyes and a mouth for your new friend.
  • Your child can use crayons or paint to decorate the tube.
  • Add arms, hair, yarn, fabric etc
  • If you have some extra tubes and interest persists, make a family.

Toilet tissue roll makes a great circle stamp

  • Get together a tube from a roll of toilet tissue, two or three colors of washable paint, a paper plate, and paper.
  • Put a couple of tablespoons of washable paint on paper plate.
    Show your child how to hold one end of the tube (palm over the top opening) and press the other end in the paint. Then show him how to press the painted end of the tube on a sheet of paper.
  • Give her a turn. Encourage her to make several circles with one dip of paint to see how the colored lines get lighter. After some exploratory play, add a couple more colors of paint to the plate. (Using blue, red, and yellow allows for some rewarding color mixes.)
  • Enjoy the process of stamping and don’t worry about having a nice finished product…brownish-purple puddles can represent a lot of fun and learning.

Toilet tissue rolls combine for binoculars

Collect two toilet tissue tubes and masking tape.

  • Tape the tubes together side by side using the tape to make pretend binoculars.
  • Decorate them with markers or stickers.
  • Tape some yarn or string to the binoculars so you can hang them around your neck.
  • Go for bird watching together.

You will be amazed at how much enjoyment you and your little one can get out of what you typically throw away. Once you have started showing your child some of the many uses for cardboard tubes, put a few out with her toys and see what occurs to her.

By Anne Oxenreider