Published 7 November 2019 ● Last Updated on 25 June 2021
Be it pebbles, shells, toothpaste caps, cardboard boxes and even used wrapping paper, while I was growing up these were a part of my ‘toys’. I would pick easy-to-find daily objects and transform them into some kind of a play thing, a project that could be done by myself or with a little help from a grownup.
In contrast, nowadays, a child’s world of play is dominated by ‘off-the-shelf’ toys and most of them are made of plastic. Yes, they can be durable and last long if they get handed down from one child to another but even so… can they capture the joy of being able to create your own toys, the delight of seeing everyday objects transform into unique things? Self-creation a great way to boost a child’s imagination and creativity. As a bonus – upcycling to make the best out of waste is also beneficial for the environment.
And that’s why I have put together a list of 7 popular creators – who readily share their ‘craft’iness and experiments – on the internet. Read and follow them to make easy homemade toys and science kits for (and with!) your kids.
An award-winning toy inventor and science expert, Arvind Gupta’s interest in creating educational toys out of daily use objects started in 1978 when he was working in a science teaching programme for children in rural India. He eventually went on to making this his life’s purpose – creating one-of-a-kind DIY science toys for kids. His impassioned TED Talk: Turning Trash into Toys for Learning tells us more about his life’s work.
Though Gupta does not have a YouTube channel, his website is a treasure trove for any curious child who wants to try his hand out at simple science experiments at home. Most of these DIY science toys are made using everyday objects such as straws, elastic bands, etc – moulded to demonstrate how a black hole works or that the Earth is actually round! Moreover, there is an entire section dedicated to Toys from Trash encouraging the young ones to be inventive while having fun.
If you’re a mathematics buff, make a protractor using an old CD or an abacus using the sole of an old rubber slipper, 3 pencils and beads. Curious about magnetism – make this DIY Dancing Doll or a jumping frog! For the Newton fan, there is a whole section for his science experiments. Be it geography, maths, physics or biology – there is something for everyone.
Grandad Is An Old Man
With over 80,000 subscribers, GrandadIsAnOldMan is a popular YouTube channel that teaches you how to make easy homemade science toys. While we don’t know the real identity of granddad, he is definitely a doting grandfather who keeps creating cool projects for his own grandchildren as well as subscribers. In his words – I recycle or repurpose items rather than buy new, an eco friendly practice that we completely support!
Who would have thought that the humble rubber band can help make a powered pencil car or powered toy planes – many such projects make up the Put A Rubber Band On It channel. Or that you could make a moving eco car using spare cardboard or learn how to make mushroom spore prints.
With a doting granddad covered could a doting dad be far behind?
The South China Morning Post shared the story of this super creative dad from Central China’s Henan province. To ensure that his daughter spent less time staring at screens and indulged in more play, he started creating toys out of everyday things – cardboard, marbles, bottle caps and more. The result? See the newsreport below, and you won’t be surprised to know it went viral!!
Be it the real life Tetris board or the mechanised marble race track or the safe house piggy bank – each creation is so well turned out that even adults want to try their hand at it!
According to dad, in the last few years he has bought fewer toys for his daughter – choosing instead to build these toys and enjoy precious bonding time – a very important aspect of the parent-child relationship in our busy lives today. He feels that playing with these ‘real’ cardboard arcade toys helps build her concentration as well as improve gross motor skills and sometimes, she even pitches in with suggestions. With more than 2.3 million viewers on his social media page, this dad is now selling DIY kits online so that other children can enjoy these cardboard toys.
You can follow ZhangCQ and purchase his DIY kits here. If you’re feeling creative – try creating the games by looking at the video above, there is no knowing what the parent in you can achieve!
“Mathemusician”. “Mathematical Artist”. Wait what? You read it right the first time. These are some of the terms used to describe YouTuber ViHart, short for her full name Victoria Hart. Her visual content is an amazing collection of short mathematical videos with her rapid- fire voice-over and even faster drawing. If you want to explore the beauty of complex mathematical concepts such as Spiral and Fibonacci through doodles – dive right in. Or learn How to eat candy buttons like a recreational mathemusician where ViHart plays popular rhymes while eating candy and pursuing mathematical perfection. Her use of tortillas in the video Flex Mex is an eye-opening, never-seen-before-or-since explanation of properties of the hexagon. However, if you are into baking pies or the mathematical constant Pi, be prepared to be convinced why tau is a superior choice.
After watching her videos, I am convinced that a wandering mind during math class is not such a bad thing after all. You can visit her YouTube channel for many more such mind-boggling videos and never feel the same about math ever again.
Bash The Trash
Since 1988, John Bertles and Carina Piaggio have been creating music with trash – you read that right! Bash the Trash creates musical instruments using the regular stuff that we simply throw away. Not only that, they are a group of more than 30 musicians across the US conducting concerts, events, school assemblies and workshops using these best out of waste instruments, creating awareness around the environment, science and music!
Wondering what instruments one can make out of trash? For starters, drums out of water gallon containers, a guitar made using rubber bands, flutes out of bottles and a tambourine using an old can; we’ve only begun. Take a look at their gallery for different musical instruments that can be created using trash (difficulty levels vary!) or this playlist and make your own instruments.
Science Toy Maker
The best way to learn something is by trying it on your own – and this website with its step-by-step guides, and low-cost materials allows you to learn by doing.
Started by Slater Harrison, a retired engineer and teacher, the Science Toy Maker is now a kind of family enterprise with everyone pitching in to run the social media pages while Slater focuses on experimenting and creating, a process that is time consuming but in his words – I’m as happy a duck in a pond when I’m experimenting!
On the website, there are projects for everyone from the newbie creator to the expert young scientist. You can make your own overhead rocket launcher or a deadly vortex using 2 litre soda bottles, create your own communication device using old speakers, or even fashion a robot hand that works just like ours! What a great resource for students and teachers alike.
Why should only the older kids have fun? Some of the experiments on Science Sparks are suitable even for a 4 year old like a messy science station or learning about static electricity using jumping frogs!
Founded by Emma Vanstone and Kerry Farrow, most of the projects on this site are easy to do and use only equipment and materials commonly found around the home – always a plus point when doing creative projects with kids. Also, no matter the age of the child science activities like these encourage curiosity as well as hone planning skills in children.
The best part about using stuff that is found easily at home is that you often end up upcycling things that would otherwise end up in trash – such as make an air pressure drinks dispenser using an old soda bottle and straw or defy gravity using a cardboard box, a paper clip and a magnet. Next Halloween, why not try your hand at this spooky house circuit?
A teacher for 41 years, Bruce Yeany conducts science experiments that are classroom tested and easy to make at home. He started his YouTube channel with the intention of sharing these ideas with other teachers or anyone who has an interest in science. He believes that designing and building his own science projects has also taught him more than any theoretical course could proving that learning by doing is often the best way to teach children concepts.
One look at his page and it seems like you’ve entered the world of ‘serious’ science experiments – from sublimation of iodine to looping pendulums. And even though some experiments may need professional equipment, there are always many others that can be tried using daily use objects – such as this water fountain to understand air pressure, or this demonstration of momentum using a basketball and tennis ball. The one that caught my attention – the colourful sand pendulums and also figuring out additive colours using coloured bulbs!
What do you do after 13 years of project engineering at NASA (including the Curiosity project, no less!) and product designing at Apple Inc.? Well, if you are Mark Rober, you go on to become a famous YouTuber and an experimenter extraordinaire!
We admit it, Rober really doesn’t fit the bill of projects from things lying around the house, unless you are into serious woodwork already. But on the plus side – he showcases how specialised and powerful DIY can be. Riding on popular science and do-it-yourself gadgets, he asks questions that we all ask ourselves – ranging from whether sharks can smell a drop of bloodto how much pee is in your pool (admit you thought that too!). Then, Rober applies his genius engineering skills to design and conduct experiments which get elaborate as the video progresses. No wonder that this squirrel maze video below clocked over 76 mn views on YouTube alone – a testament that kids and adults alike love science done creatively. After watching him catch these furry seed thieves you will never think science experiments are boring and develop a new-found respect for squirrels.
There’s a lot out there for me to try out and I’m hoping you will now go ‘hands on’ too when it comes to science projects!