Playing Learning Games with Throw-Aways

Playing Learning Games with Throw-Aways

If you want to play games with your child, you can do it with materials no fancier than yesterday’s newspaper, today’s empty cereal box and a smile.

Playing with your child lets her or him know that you enjoy their company and want to spend time together. But just as important is the fact that playing is the way children learn. Playing is the way they gain confidence and skills. Research even shows that brains evolve and expand with play. Play matters.

But it’s one thing to be advised to play with your child and another to know what to play. Even if you have some old favorite games, children often love the novelty of playing something new.

Here are a couple of free and easy to organize games that engage the whole child.

The newspaper game shown in the cartoon below enhances their coordination by engaging them in a variety of ways to jump. Each time they use a different combination of muscles to jump, for example, sideways and backwards, they gain an internal awareness of how to control their movements. They also have a lot of fun and use up some of that extra energy!

newspaper game

The other game is more sedate as it’s about making and playing with one’s own homemade puzzle. It’s called:


Why throw out an empty cereal box when the manufacturers spent all that money to make an attractive eye-catching picture. Make a beginners or advanced learner puzzle instead. That the children are getting the academic concept of parts to whole or the spatial awareness that comes from putting the puzzle together or even increasing their fine motor skills doesn’t matter to kids. What matters is that it is a very fun activity and the same simple puzzle can get more complicated instantly.

For the beginner, cut out the front or backsides of a cereal box. Then, cut each side in half forming two large rectangles. Show children how the two parts can be put together to make a whole picture again. Then let them try it on their own. Provide assistance as needed.

Once the children accomplish the task a few times, you cut or have them cut the halves in half again so that there are now four pieces to each puzzle. Have them practice putting the four pieces together to make a whole picture again.

Or you could cut another box side with a diagonal cut this time so that you have two triangular halves instead of two rectangles.

When your child is ready for an added challenge, cut the pieces in abstract shapes rather than just squares, triangles or rectangles. If your child needs help with this type of puzzle, you can lay the puzzle on a piece of paper and outline each piece so he can see how the shapes fit together more clearly.

You can also make a more attractive (and less commercial looking) puzzle by pasting a picture from a magazine on a piece of cardboard instead. Pictures from old National Geographic or Smithsonian magazines work well because their photos are so interesting.

If you want to reuse the puzzles, they keep nicely in a brown mailing envelope. Or, poke a hole in the corner of each puzzle piece, stick a paper clip through the holes and hang them up on a cup hook. This way your child can keep a few puzzles in their room to play with at their whim.

For children who have motoric difficulties and tend to be a little clumsy with their hands, lay down a non-slip mat so the cardboard puzzle piece will stay put while the other piece or pieces are being added.

To help children understand the concept of putting parts together to make a whole, make sure that they are part of the process. They see the picture on the whole side of the box and either cut the box in half on their own or watch you to do it.

It’s nice to know you can make something out of something else.

To find more ideas on making toys and games from throw-aways, check out games books by Barbara Sher on any on-line bookstore or from her website

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