Introduction: Upcycled Toddler Busy Toy Canister

About: I love words, food, Jesus, traveling, people, hiking, my little family, laughing, sleeping and hot tubs. Not in that order.

My husband and I moved four times in less than four years. Some of the boxes that were packed before that first move weren't unpacked until well after the fourth one. Not surprising to anyone who knows me well, one of the boxes that followed us, unopened, from house to house was filled with random cleaning supplies. This is how I learned that a canister of cleaning wipes will completely dry out if left untouched for several years.

When I first packed those wipes away I was not a mom. By the time they were unpacked I had a toddler. Who loved trash. I mean it. That kid has a little toy wagon that he pulls around the house collecting empty bottles and boxes. My husband would just give him trash until one day I had to actually use this sentence: "Could you please not give our son any more trash to play with?"

These dried-wipes did not make it to the trash can before my toddler confiscated them. I can't believe I'm saying this, but normally I let him play with the trash he collects for a couple hours to a couple days before wrangling it away and tossing it.

But I watched him sit in the floor and open this canister and pull each wipe out. He tore them all apart and put them back in.

I am not sure what this says about me, but I am willing to let my toddler play with trash if it gives me thirty minutes peace. I realize that playing with trash is not actually socially acceptable, so I devised a plan to keep the same play concept that kept my son entertained while transforming the canister into something I wouldn't be completely embarrassed to take in public.

The great thing about this project is that it can be as complex or as simple as you would like it to be. You likely have everything you might need in or headed to your trash can or recycling or donation bin. Or you can spend a few bucks and a little more time to make it even more engaging for your child (and aesthetically pleasing to you).

Step 1: Supplies

At minimum, I would suggest three things:

  • An empty plastic canister. These are typically pretty sturdy and versatile (you can use them to store crayons, craft supplies and all kinds of things) but often originally have harmful-if-ingested chemicals in them (think dishwashing pods). So please be sure to thoroughly clean any container prior to any reuse project.
  • Fabric remnants. My original plan was to only use old t-shirts and shorts (pictured), but I found some super discounted fabric remnants that I just loved when I was shopping for some of the optional items for this project.
  • Scissors.

These optional items will enhance your project:

  • A variety of "closures." I decided to purchase some zippers and velcro tabs. I used some old buttons (that happened to match my color scheme) I had previously removed from a sweater. You could also use laces or snaps or anything else to attach strips of cloth together.
  • Craft supplies. Paint, brushes, paper, markers, crayons glue and sewing supplies (needle, thread, etc) can be used to decorate

Step 2: Cut Fabric Strips

You can be as precise or as free-handed as you would like when you cut the pieces of fabric. I decided to use a dry cleaning wipe as a template. But I did a rough cut and made the pieces various sizes.

If you wanted you could finish the edges of the fabric. (I would recommend a sewing machine for that.)

You can also use an assortment of types of fabric. You can even cut out pockets and random shapes for added variety.

You can just put the pieces of cloth in the container and let your toddler enjoy. Or let your creativity and your child's interests drive the project from here.

This is what I did...

Step 3: Pick a Pattern

I used a variety of fabric remnants I purchased on sale along with a t-shirt I cut up that matched my color scheme. I decided to arrange the pieces of fabric in a pattern that I *hope* my toddler can copy if we use this to play together (solid/patterned/solid/patterned).

Feel free to arrange your fabric to teach colors, shapes, numbers or other concepts. Or just keep it random.

Step 4: Attach Fabric Pieces Together.

There are a number of ways you can attach the pieces of fabric to each other that will allow your toddler to practice a variety of skills to separate and re-attach the cloth strips.

*Please keep in mind the age and developmental level of your child when determining which supplies to use. Small items, such as buttons and tabs, could be removed and cause a choking hazard.*

I chose velcro tabs and used two at each end of the strip. If your velcro tabs are not specifically designed to adhere to fabric you can put a couple stitches in them to help prevent them from falling off.

I also wanted to use some buttons. I thought they matched well and would give my two year old some button practice.

I was excited to include zippered pieces. My son loves zippers but still struggles with them so I thought this would give him an opportunity to work on it. I just sewed the zipper on by hand (I used the backstitch method). You can also use your sewing machine for this if you prefer.

As I was doing this project, I was thinking snaps and laces might also be fun.

Step 5: Decorate Outside of Container.

You can leave the outside of the canister plain if you prefer, but a little bit of effort can spruce it up nicely.

I had an extra piece of brown wrapping paper that I cut to size. You could also use plain paper, an old paper shopping bag, coloring sheets or holiday wrapping paper. Or just paint or color directly on the canister itself.

I was working on this project while my toddler was out and I was thinking how cute it would be if he decorated it himself. Just when I finished the lettering "Fun Wipes" he got home.

I decided to let him add paint. This was the first time he has ever painted strokes thick enough to cover what was underneath the paint. Of course.

Also, I recently learned that allowing your child to paint and draw on a vertical surface helps develop their fine motor skills in a way unique from horizontal surfaces. I didn't want to invest in an easel, so I just use magnets to put whatever canvas source on the refrigerator. I'm surprised we haven't had paint on the fridge yet, but it seems to clean up well on other surfaces.

Bonus points if you can guess my husband's name.

A line of glue along the side of the container should attach the paper well.

Step 6: Let Your Toddler Enjoy.

Once all the paint and glue dries, you can give this to your child. We store ours in a cabinet under the sink. We weren't able to find a reliable child-proof lock for this particular cabinet, so I cleaned it out and keep certain toys (like this one) there for my son to play with when he's in the kitchen with me. I think he likes pulling out "his" container of wipes when I get mine out to clean.

*If you're thinking you could give this to your child for a quick photo op then take it away and expect him to go back to playing with his other toys, you would be wrong. Be prepared for a fit. Hypothetically.

I'm sure others might have tons of other great ideas to enhance the play container. Please share!

Let me know if you have any questions.

Trash to Treasure

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Trash to Treasure