Glitter, upcycling, and independent play: these are a few of my favorite things. When we received a box brimming with Glitter Glue, Painters Markers, School Glue and Glue Sticks from Elmer’s last weekend, I knew EXACTLY what we would do – get our craft on and create a homemade play town with items straight from the recycling bin. My ulterior motive? Making something that would engage the kids for days with minimal effort and interference from me.
The beauty of this activity was that we could use items we already had and it was a no holds barred project – anything goes!
I purposely didn’t glue down any of the props so the kids could move the pieces around as they pleased and so we could take our small world to any room in the house and be able to head outside with any of our pieces.
The kids incorporated their own toys and even added their creations to our existing play sets. Best of all, they were so proud that it was theirs.
- Anything from your recycling bin: paper tubes, cereal or pasta boxes, egg cartons, , milk cartons, magazine pages, etc.
- Paint or Markers
- Optional: plain or colored paper
Simply grab your materials and go! There is no right or wrong way to craft your perfect town or small world.
Tip: If you’re stumped on where to begin, do some brainstorming together. Two methods work well to maximize fun and minimize frustration: You can either preselect every component or character in your world and figure out which objects would make the best buildings, for example, or start with choosing the one material that catches your child’s eye, build with that piece, and see where things lead.
My daughter first decided on a skyscraper made from a cereal box and a car made from a toilet paper roll tube. My son, on the other hand, really just wanted to get his hands on the Glue Sticks and Painters Markers and had no particular idea in mind for what he would create.
What started out as a paper roll knight for my son, turned into a superhero with “rocket launchers.”
And two days after beaming over the skyscraper my daughter made, she decided to embellish it with a resident owl and “fireworks” (aka lots of colorful glitter glue).
Even I got in on the fun! The kids, of course, requested modifications to whatever I made. For instance, we ended up cutting out the back of this Post Office building and cutting out a door so that the kids’ toys could get inside. Of course. I do not know why I did not think of that!
Extending and Modifying the Activity
Introduce Different Materials
You can easily extend this activity by introducing more materials to the project, like popsicle sticks, Q-tips, cotton balls, straws, pompoms, clothespins, paper clips, takeout chopsticks, or whatever else you have on hand. You could even space out what you provide to the kids over a number of days to keep their interest over a longer period of time.
My children added cling wrap and aluminum foil on their own, which I though was genius. (By the way, did you know that Elmer’s Painters Markers draw and dry super well on foil? Perfect for all kinds of art and craft designing!)
Create Around Themes
I theme everything and love how you can spin new life into an old activity by simply changing the focus or characteristics of one idea.
Some themes to try:
- Jungle or Marine
Pare it Down or Scale It Back
If an entire play town is intimidating, simplify your small world scene or make just one prop, like a pasta box doll bed or a simple paper roll puppet. You’ll be amazed at how little it takes to make your child’s imagination soar.
You can also try some of our other favorite DIY pretend play props:
- Simple Paper Bag Puppets
- Cork & Bottlecap Puppets
- Paper Roll Butterflies & Binoculars
- Coffee Sleeve Snakes & Paper Roll Puffy Caterpillars
- Detectives & Dinosaurs: Exploring Open-Ended Pretend Play
P.S. – If you’re new to pretend play or wondering how to set up open-ended activities for your child, our posts on Easy Ways to Encourage Free Play and showing how children experience Free Play Fun are good places to start.
Keep #RaisingThinkingKids and have fun!
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Disclaimer: I’m thrilled to be collaborating with Elmer’s to share our easy activities and crafty inspiration for busy moms and families like ours who want to spend more time unplugging and reconnecting. We receive lots of glittery goodies as part of this relationship, but as always, all opinions are our own.