Frugal Kids: Free Building Set

My 5-year-old son loves to build things. He carefully plans out machines and devices that in his imagination could do everything from picking up toys to feeding the cat. Sure we have invested in Legos, K’nex and Mega Blocs, but the downside to these toys is that unless you have an unlimited budget, the various pieces can add up in expense. Also, you can’t save any of the creations to display unless you never want to build anything with the pieces again.

Our family’s solution was to establish a building box. Remember Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (with Johnny Depp)? Charlie’s dad brings home all sorts of misfired toothpaste caps in incredible shapes, and Charlie uses them to build his own model of the wondrous chocolate factory. It is an inspired idea.

In our house, we save all sorts of interesting containers, lids, etc and store them in the building box. Whenever our son is looking for something to build, he explores the box and uses whatever is in there. It is a great creative outlet, uses up items we would otherwise throw away and is absolutely free (with the exception of maybe a bit of glue or tape). We have passed some of the one-of-a-kind creations on to grandparents, who display them with pride.

Below is a list of some of the things we have found to make the best building materials. You can probably come up with more on your own, and don’t be surprised if your child has his or her own suggestions. You can even add inexpensive items such as pipe-cleaners and google eyes to the box for a special surprise. Just make sure to check all items carefully for sharp edges before you give them to your child. For this reason, I don’t recommend plastic soda bottles, because they can yield sharp edges when cut. This idea is especially good for ages 4 and up.

  • Toilet paper and paper towel tubes (the very building blocks of creativity)
  • Baking powder containers
  • Toothpaste caps and other interesting lids
  • Egg cartons
  • Berry containers
  • Shirt cardboard
  • Small boxes, such as the kind that holds a stick of butter
  • Medium boxes, such as the kind that holds cake mix or macaroni & cheese
  • Margarine containers
  • Sour cream and ricotta containers
  • Empty sewing thread spools
  • Sleeves from microwave pastries (such as hot pockets)
  • Twist ties from plastic bags
  • Any surplus items you might be tempted to toss, such as cotton balls
  • Free CD-ROM discs you get in the mail
  • Cellophane plastic from the window of business envelopes (they make great windows for buildings)

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About Mary Ann Romans

Mary Ann Romans is a freelance writer, online content manager, wife and mother of three children. She lives in Pennsylvania in the middle of the woods but close enough to Target and Home Depot. The author of many magazine, newspaper and online articles, Mary Ann enjoys writing about almost any subject. "Writing gives me the opportunity to both learn interesting information, and to interact with wonderful people." Mary Ann has written more than 5,000 blogs for since she started back in December 2006. Contact her at maromans AT or visit her personal blog