Imaginative Play Ideas for Preschoolers From Your Recycling Bin

This post was written by local preschool teacher Abigail Ferris. You can find her at The Children's Garden Preschool in Portsmouth NH.

If you see someone picking through your recycling out on the curb, don’t be alarmed, it’s likely just one of the teachers from The Children’s Garden Preschool. Imagination and creation are languages children know extremely well. We need to be sure that we’re letting them access and explore that part of themselves.

imaginative play ideas for preschoolers - rocket ship from a yogurt cup
Oh, yogurt cup. What will you become?

Imaginative play can be a healthy outlet for children to work through their feelings and uncertain times.

They have a sense of control when their world (and ours) is feeling a little fuzzy. There’s a reason that so many adults have coloring books, or start painting. It helps us breathe and process emotions, even if we don’t think we are doing much more than coloring! Art is such a wonderful way for children to do that as well.

Through art, they are:

  • processing information
  • sifting through their emotions
  • strengthening fine motor skills
  • learning trial and error
  • developing language
  • problem solving
  • getting a nice dose of sensory experiences

Just to name a few! In a world where children are our future, let’s show them that you can have a little fun while also re-purposing.

Here’s a little peek of some imaginative play ideas for preschoolers that use your recyclable items!

Plastic Bottles

Take two empty plastic bottles, duct tape them together, and add some duct tape straps! Make an oxygen tank for scuba diving or jetpack for space expeditions! (tall seltzer or liter soda bottles work great)

Toilet paper rolls

Some people may have an abundance of those at home right now! Create binoculars and go on a search throughout the house or outside! “I spy with my curious little eyes…something blue!” This is also a great way to practice observing, articulating, and
communicating information! Build with them, see how many you can stack on top of one another before it falls, use trial and error to build a structure, stamp one into some paint and make some art! Cut, and paint them to use as big beads. Use it as a microphone and do some karaoke or have a concert with those dress ups! The options are endless with these! TP rolls are vastly underrated.

Tin Foil

How many times do you smash up a piece of tinfoil that was used once and only had a tad of jam on it? Next time, stop and give it a quick wipe down! Tin foil is such an interesting material to work with! You can keep it flat and paint on it with paintbrushes, fingers, or q- tips (I wouldn’t re-purpose dirty ones, but that’s just me) crumble it up and dip into paint, and explore different
textures. Take some different shapes of cardboard and wrap them up, paint and glue things to your hearts desire- you can even poke a hole and put string through it to hang and display! Or use a toothpick and a wine cork (these also might be in abundance at home right now) to hold it up as a stand!

Imaginative play ideas for preschoolers - tin foil and cork christmas trees
Festive all year round, if you ask us!

Boxes… we love boxes!

So many sizes and endless possibilities. Our resident OT has already sang the praises of cardboard boxes and gift packages for imaginative play, but here we go again! Have you ever bought a toy or something for a young child and watched them look at that toy, smile, and then move it aside so they can get to that box? Yeah, me too. That’s because boxes can take us places that toys with fixed outcomes can’t! That magical cardboard container can be anything we imagine. Depending on the size of the box, here are a few of my favorites…

Smaller Boxes:

If you have more than a few, create a mini version of your city or town and your child’s favorite places in it- this is also a great way to still feel a part of the community when you might not be able to visit those places. Make a “secret keepings box” and let them decorate it however they like for their special things! Maybe it’s a rock collection, jewelry, or full of things that may seem random to use but have great meaning to them! (bar soap boxes work great for this too!)

Imaginative play ideas for preschoolersShoebox/Medium Boxes:

Remember book reports? Read a book to your child and have them use whatever materials to create something from that story to continue their learning. Instead of asking “what is this?” etc try asking them why they used that material or why they picked that area to “decorate”. Let them create a bed or room for a special stuffed animal or doll. Make into a dollhouse- place the box on its side and add layers for floors of the house and add a roof!

imaginative play ideas for preschoolers - cardboard boxesLarger boxes:

Glue bottle caps as buttons for a spaceship or car, cut a window or two out of the sides, put some pillows and blankets inside, and maybe even some string lights (be careful if the lights get warm this could be a fire hazard) lay a blanket or fabric over the top and make a fort to read in, color in or take a little snooze inside! Make into a playhouse- cut an upside down L shape for a door and
let them paint, color and decorate it to be whatever house they’d like! With larger boxes sometimes all you need to do is just give them space… Meaning walk away from them and let them climb in and use their imagination. One of the greatest things about this is watching the magic and creativity spark in their eyes.

Imaginative play ideas for preschoolers don’t have to be complicated! Let their imaginations take over — you’ll see just how far they’ll go.

Learn more about the many different Seacoast preschools around and thank you to The Children’s Garden Preschool in Portsmouth, who generously shared their expertise (their expertise is PLAY!).