DIY Building Sets- Big Fun, Small Cost

“I don’t know how you come up with this stuff.”

Over lunch with a friend, she commented on some activity I did with my children, seemingly astounded by my creativity.  I am going to let you in on a secret- I’m not so much creative as I am cheap.  I appreciated the compliment, but the truth is I just really hate to pay for something that I’m unsure will get used.  We all know what it feels like to spend your hard earned dollars on some sort of toy or gadget, thinking your kids are going to do back flips when they see it, only to have it tossed in the corner after five minutes of play.

I have been looking for a new building set.  My kids are Lego fanatics.  I paid for two sets of Magna-Tiles (an unheard splurge.)  But beyond that, we haven’t had much luck with building toys.  Tinker Toys were quickly forgotten.  Crystal climbers- not much interest.  Qubits- a big snore.  That set with the magnetic balls and rods- well, I just got annoyed with my floors getting covered in marbles.

Here are a few ideas to utilize your kids’ problem solving skills without breaking the bank.

1.  Pipes, pipe fittings, and zip ties- I have been on the lookout for a set of pipes for quite sometime.  If you have gone a children’s museum in recent years, chances are you have played with some sort of pipe building system.  I’ve seen them at the OMSI in Portland in Oregon, where you try to build a water way.  In Mesa, AZ, at the Natural History Museum, you build them to get a ping pong ball into the mouth of a baby pteradactyl.  I looked into buying a set of play pipes from Lakeshore but didn’t want to pay $25 for a small set, when I didn’t now if my kids would like it and/or need multiple sets to build things they really enjoyed.

http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C925%2C194&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1430094329461

I found a huge box of white PVC pipes and fittings at a thrift store for $10.  My husband had zip ties in the garage.  We were ready to go!  I gave the kids instructions to build a lawn waterer that had to reach from our pool fence to the grass. I had to assist them a bit, but I was very impressed with their engineering.  At one point, I put a fitting on the a pipe, my four year old looked at it and said “that’s not going to work.”  He was right- I had lined up the pipe with a fitting that was blocked instead of hallow.

 

I can’t wait to see what we build next with these.

2.  Card stock and tape- I perform the most simple volunteering task in the world by cutting out things for Kellen’s preschool class.  The teacher tucks the sheets in his backpack, I cut them out and return them.  I cut out something on neon card stock that left a huge amount of scrap.  I couldn’t stand to throw all that good material away!  I cut it up to save for another day.

This past week, I cut the card stock into squares, and taped them into triangles and cubes.  Liam noticed what I was doing, and started to tape shapes of his own.  I asked if he could build with the shapes.  He started to put them together, but the shapes were flimsy.  I asked him what he could do to accommodate for the flexibility.  He began stacking them to provide support, and taping them together to make them extra sturdy.  Great opportunity to problem solve, and every item was on hand.

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3.  Bottles and boxes- I know this is going to seem like a “duh” moment.  Of course you can build with bottles and boxes.  But I think most of us find it annoying to save those materials that should be in the recycling bin (I know my husband does.)  They are worth saving! Sure, you could buy a set of cardboard blocks for $25-40, but it costs a lot less to use what you have on hand.

http://www.amazon.com/Melissa-Doug-Deluxe-Cardboard-Blocks/dp/B000A12YBW

My children have gotten VERY into the Wild Kratts games on pbskids.org.  I try to capitolize on their interest by creating activities that incorporate the Wild Kratts but get them off the computer.  One of the games involves a rhino charging and knocking through tree stumps and rocks.  I decided to help them create our own obstacles to charge through.

We stacked empty boxes and plastic bottles to create trees and rocks to charge through.  After each charge, I asked them if they could build the next obstacle higher than the last one.  The activity was a perfect combination of problem solving and physical play.

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Ok, maybe I’m a garbage hoarder.  I’ve been called worse.  But why spend your money on expensive building sets when you can make them at home.  That’s cutting into your wine budget, and nobody wants that.

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