Maker Play: Kids Can Create with Anything

Kids practice problem-solving, creativity and working together with homemade challenges.

Parker Barry

Give a kid a cardboard box, and you see imagination explode. That box can become a bed, a rocket ship, a house, a train station. Or it can be altered into Minecraft creatures, robot arms or whatever else little minds can imagine. So, inspired by cardboard boxes, we like to find random things around the house and just spend some time playing. That may start with “What can we make with this stuff?” or get more advanced with a specific challenge. “Let’s use these items (and nothing else) to make the tallest tower we can.”

The idea is to use what we have on hand, but since we play this way fairly often, I stock some of the items in the supplies list to encourage creativity.

Setup is minimal, too. Dump the items for the challenge onto a table or floor, deliver the challenge and start creating. Sometimes we set a time limit to increase the challenge — giving a couple of minutes to complete the task. Sometimes we build slowly and take time to pay more attention to details. Sometimes we work collaboratively, all building the same solution, and sometimes we compete, either racing to see who finishes first or whose structure is highest or holds the most.

We like to mix up the fun, too, especially seasonally. In the winter, I often have marshmallows or maybe even gum drops on hand, and we can those in a play challenge to stick toothpicks or uncooked spaghetti together to build a structure.

What You’ll Need

Everything is optional!

  • aluminum foil
  • balloons
  • chenille sticks (pipe cleaners)
  • craft sticks
  • drinking straws
  • paper clips
  • paper cups
  • rubber bands
  • toothpicks

Start simple

creative_maker_3A great starting challenge that doesn’t require much prep or equipment is “Using only 10 sheets of paper, build the tallest tower you can.” The great thing about this challenge (and most of these!) is that there’s no one “right” way to do it. You can do this with your kids once and see what they create, and then try it again a few months later and see how their experiences and problem-solving skills have changed.

Mix it up

Increase the challenge by limiting time or resources. Give kids the same tower-building challenge, but have them build the tower in two minutes or less. Or have them build it with only three sheets of paper.


Add complexity

Give kids specific supplies and a mission. Challenge them to create a system to move a ping-pong ball from one side of a room to another using a paper cup, two paper clips, and a straw without ever touching the ball or the cup. Get creative with making up challenges, and then let kids make them up, too.

In addition to being fun, this kind of play helps kids develop problem-solving skills and practice creativity as well as how to work together.


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