DIY Toddler Toys for Creative Play

DIY Toddler Toys for Creative Play

Sometimes the best toddler toys are the ones made from the contents of your recycling bin! 3 of my toddler’s favorite play activities involve toys we made out of cardboard boxes;

  • Car ramps and jumps
  • Ball hoops
  • Forts

And aside from costing nothing, DIY toddler toys have a number of other important benefits! When it comes to early childhood development, both building homemade toys and playing with them helps toddlers develop the following;

  • Creativity
  • Problem solving skills
  • Self-confidence
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Flexible thinking
  • Sequencing skills (planning and step-by-step actions)

3 Simple Cardboard DIY Toddler Toys

1. Ramps, Jumps and Parking Garages

DIY cardboard ramps, jumps and parking garages have been such a big hit with my toddler! He can drive cars down his various cardboard ramps all day long. And they are so easy to make. For example, a ramp can be as simple as breaking off a side of a cardboard box and leaning it against your coffee table.

And as you can see in the image below, toddlers get very excited about decorating their ramps.

simple cardboard ramp with toddler drawing all over it

You can also combine tube ramps with cardboard box halfpipes to create a jump for cars and balls. This is probably my toddler’s favorite toy at the moment, and has been for the past month! 

diy cardboard and cardboard tube toy car ramp for toddlers

Things to Slide Down Ramps

  • Toy cars
  • Balls (wooden ones, plastic ones, cloth ones)
  • Blocks
  • Pom poms
  • Water bottles (full and empty ones)

Benefits of Toy Ramp Play

  • Learning about gravity
    You can offer your toddler objects of different weights, shapes and sizes to let them explore the concept of gravity.
  • Learning about momentum and distance
    Show your toddler how different angles of a ramp affect an object’s speed and travel distance. You can also set a bowl out in front of a ramp/jump so your toddler can try and get a car or ball to land in the bowl. My toddler also likes to stack blocks in front of the jump to try and knock them all down with a flying car. 
  • Pure Fun
    This ramp/jump has provided hours and hours of fun for my toddler! 

We have also recently built a parking garage for all of his hot wheels cars. I found an old shoe box and cut up some pasta boxes to tape inside it. He puts his cars in here every night before bed. So sweet!

diy hot wheels parking garage made out of a cardboard box and pasta boxes

2. Ball Hoops

Making a cardboard “basketball hoop” is a simple and effective way to get energetic toddlers running, jumping and twisting!

And all you need is a strip of cardboard and some painter’s tape. And of course some toy balls to throw through it! I wrapped the edges of the cardboard strip with tape before taping closed a hoop to prevent any paper cuts during play. Other than that, we just stuck the hoop to the wall with a piece of painter’s tape! My toddler plays with this hoop everyday. 

diy cardboard basketball hoop for toddler

Benefits of DIY “Basketball Hoops”

  • Hand eye coordination skills
  • Depth perception skills
  • Fine and gross motor skills.
    – Jumping, running, twisting and grasping the ball.
  • Cooperative play
    – Taking turns and sharing
  • Burning all that wild toddler energy!

3. Forts

I have such fond childhood memories of building forts. There’s something about making special little spaces and hanging out in them that is just magical!

My toddler likes to use furniture and blankets for his forts, but when we don’t have enough furniture around, cardboard boxes make some great fort walls! 

And big cardboard boxes can also become forts and tunnels themselves. You can cut out windows or connect cardboard boxes to make tunnels. 

indoor toddler play fort with blankets and cardboard boxes

Benefits of DIY Fort Play

  • Encourages imaginative play
  • Develops sequencing skills (planning and step-by-step building skills)

Creative Development in Early Childhood with DIY Toddler Toys

For a more detailed discussion on the benefits of the above DIY toddler toys, read on…

These toys encourage open-ended play and creativity. The Tot defines open-ended play as, “…any type of play that doesn’t have set rules, limitations or defined outcome.” This kind of play allows kids to exercise their imaginations and engage in self-led exploration.

Problem Solving Skills

Figuring out how to assemble these DIY toys and then figuring out ways to play with them requires problem solving skills. For example, when a piece of tape folds in on itself as little ones apply it to a piece of cardboard, they figure out how to keep it flat the next time. Or when they can’t get a rubbery object to slide down their ramp, they figure out what kind of object will slide down. 


Transforming cardboard boxes into fun toys gives our little ones a sense of creative power. They have the experience of making something out of nothing. And then they figure out all sorts of ways to use their toys. This all contributes to their developing self-esteem and self-confidence.

For another DIY toddler activity, you can check out my post on DIY Playdough.

Flexibile Thinking

Versatile toys allow toddlers to explore the multi-functionality of an object. There is not just one way to play with these DIY toys. In fact, the possibilities are near endless! These kinds of versatile toys encourage flexible thinking, and are also great to Encourage Independent Play.

For example, toddlers can practice throwing balls into a DIY ball hoop from many different distances and positions. They can run right up to the hoop and jump to drop a ball in, or they can throw it from a few feet back. They can even stand right underneath the hoop and toss the ball straight up and out, or experiment with different sized balls. Additionally, you can intermittently adjust the height of the hoop to give them new challenges. 

Fine and Gross Motor Skills

While cutting cardboard is best left to the adults, toddlers can exercise their motor skills by helping you gather cardboard boxes, handing you tools and applying tape to put these simple DIY toys together. They can also go wild with decorating the cardboard with paint, markers, pom poms, pipe cleaners and any other craft materials you have!


As you build these DIY toys with your toddler, you introduce them to the concept of sequencing. That is, doing things in a progressive order, step-by-step. Learning Without Tears explains that sequencing is a foundational skill that helps young children “learn to recognize patterns that make their world more understandable and predictable”. Without basic sequencing skills, we would not be able to follow instructions or complete routine tasks.  

DIY Toddler Toys Wrap-Up

In addition to helping build important creativity skills and providing hours of fun, DIY toddler toys can simply be put back in the recycle bin at the end of the day, the month or the year!

And you can always make more. When there are so many toys that end up in the landfill, I feel good about doing my part to minimize our footprint. And making these toys is a great way to teach young kids about resourcefulness and environmental consciousness. Plus, they have so much fun with them!

I hope these simple DIY toddler toys provided you with some helpful ideas and inspiration. Say hi in the comments and let me know about your toddler’s favorite DIY toys!

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