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How your junk drawer can inspire creativity for kids

INSIDE: Kid Inventor’s Day is celebrated every January, but your kids can invent EVERY day! I’ll show you how to set up a tinker box that is sure to inspire creativity!


Our son ran by us, trailing a long purple thing in his wake. We stopped him to ask what it was! Turned out to be a plastic lidded container he had sealed closed around a purple play silk, leaving the play silk ends hanging down the sides of the container. “It’s a jellyfish!” he told us. So it was. I never would have thought of that.

At some point in parenting you discover kids have a way of turning the ordinary on its head. Making something brand new out of what you thought were tried-and-true toys. You’ll find an assortment of objects in random places – but your kids can explain why each of them are there: a Lego in your shoe… treasure hunt. A toy car jammed where no toy car should fit…rock slide. Puzzle pieces-turned-coins…grocery store play. All these little bits and pieces become food for the imagination.

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” – Thomas Edison.

If a container destined for the recycling bin could become a jellyfish… what else can kids come up with? Turns out – a lot! When given random open-ended items, kids invent amazing creations!

So next time your kids are bored or you just want to inspire their creativity, just open up your junk drawer. It’s a wealth of inspiration for any young tinkerer!

Kid Inventor’s Day is January 17th – a great day to inspire creativity!

Now, kids can be creative any day, but isn’t it fun to celebrate themed days?

Kid Inventor’s Day is celebrated January 17th each year, in honor of Benjamin Franklin – another kid inventor! He invented the first pair of swimming flippers at age 12! So what better time to create this kind of exploratory box of open-ended items.

Kid Inventor’s Day a great reason to host a themed activity in your homeschool or with a playgroup. I’m going to show you how easy it is to set up an Inventor’s Day celebration with little prep. Mostly you’ll use things you find around the house (and clean up in the process, perhaps?).

The concept behind creating a Tinker Box for kids is similar to the “strewing” activities of Montessori and Waldorf. Just place opportunities and materials out for kids and watch their curious minds go wild.

Tap into kids’ natural curiosity and ingenuity with this idea to create a Tinker Box for Kid Inventor’s Day!

PS: I first wrote this post in January 2015…This box has been in play for FOUR years now!! I have updated this post to reflect what has worked best and share ideas for both older and younger kids. 

kid inventor's day

What can inspire creativity in a Tinker Box?

kid inventor's day

You can put all sorts of household items into a Tinker Box. Anything kids can use to create, construct, invent, and even demolish! Think of it as an extension of the sensory bins used for babies and toddlers. It’s a sensory bin gone LARGE!

Find a tinker box container

Our tinker box is housed in a large shoe box I had in the closet. It was big enough for boots, with a hinge-like lid making it perfect for the task. And, the box is something kids can decorate later if they want.

Other ideas might be an old tool box, a photo storage box, a large salad tub container, or even a drawstring bag.

Fill the tinker box with items kids can use

I didn’t spend a dime to create create a tinker box, which is the beauty of it. My husband and I just walked around the house, opening drawers (how do we have so many junk drawers!?), putting bits of this and that into the box.

OPTIONAL: As my kids have grown and wanted a few more items in their box, I’ve sometimes “reloaded” the Tinker Box with fresh items inexpensively at the dollar store

  • Tape (Scotch, masking, and painter’s tape work best for younger children. Duck/duct tape and/or electrical tape for older)
  • Glue sticks or small white school glue bottles
  • Paperclips
  • Carabiners
  • Binder clips
  • Rubber bands
  • Wooden clothespins
  • Plastic spoons
  • Cork pieces (perfect for floating inventions)
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Balloons
  • Straws
  • Wires (not with plugs in them, but small pieces of copper or metal wiring for crafts)
  • Nuts and bolts and any stray hardware
  • Tongue depressors and popsicle sticks
  • Egg crates and small cardboard boxes from food items (they’ll love to poke things into the sides, or tape them together to make a spaceship)
  • Leftover party streamers
  • Old CDs (these are starting to be hard to come by!)
  • Aluminum foil (fold up and possibly place in a zip bag so it doesn’t get torn)
  • Dental floss (makes great string for older kids; please don’t put in a toddler/preschool box as there is risk of strangling)
  • Magnetic metal containers (to store small parts)
  • Pencils and/or markers
  • Scissors (older kids)

The list of items you could use to create a tinker box could go on and on. As long as the item is safe for children, toss it in. The worst that could happen is they won’t use it. But… I bet they will. Open-ended sensory bins have a way of bringing out the kid inventor in everyone!

tinker box kid inventors day
tinker box kid inventors day
tinker box kid inventors day

Every kid becomes an inspired inventor with a tinker box!

To celebrate Kid Inventor’s Day, I gave my son the tinker box and he immediately lit up. He couldn’t believe this box of “junk” was all for him to play with. He set about exploring each piece, asking questions about what things were (I have no clue on some of the stuff hubby dropped in!).

Then he started building. He created some swords. He explored various methods of sticking items together. Poked holes in an egg carton. The Tinker Box kept my five-year-old entertained for a good hour.

Did you know? Benjamin Franklin was a kid inventor! He invented the first pair of swimming flippers at age 12! #KidInventorsDay #tinkerbox #playideas #play #creativity #DIY #parenting Click To Tweet
kid inventor's day

**Update: In the FIVE YEARS since I wrote this post in 2014, our boys still play with their Tinker Box at ages 6 and 8! We’re always adding bits and pieces to the mix. Creating keeps them engaged and busy for hours! Who knows what they’ll create tomorrow!

What other items would you include in a tinker box? What kinds of activities keep your kids engaged for lengths of time?

Shop for Tinker Box Items

Although you don’t need to spend a lot of money (or any!) on a Tinker Box, as your kids get older, or if they develop a specific interest, you may want to add more specialized tinker boxes. Check out these ideas. I love the Loose Parts Play book ideas!

Tinkering Labs Electric Motors Catalyst STEM KitTinkering Labs Electric Motors Catalyst STEM KitTinkering Labs Electric Motors Catalyst STEM KitUgears Theater Mechanical 3D Puzzle Wooden Construction SetUgears Theater Mechanical 3D Puzzle Wooden Construction SetUgears Theater Mechanical 3D Puzzle Wooden Construction SetFrogTapeFrogTapeFrogTapeD-Ring Spring Loaded Gate Small Carabineers ClipD-Ring Spring Loaded Gate Small Carabineers ClipD-Ring Spring Loaded Gate Small Carabineers ClipMy First Tool Set by DIYjr – Real Tool Set for KidsMy First Tool Set by DIYjr – Real Tool Set for KidsMy First Tool Set by DIYjr – Real Tool Set for KidsLoose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children (Loose Parts Series)Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children (Loose Parts Series)Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children (Loose Parts Series)Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers (Loose Parts Series)Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers (Loose Parts Series)Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers (Loose Parts Series)

For more creative play ideas… check out:

handmade musical instruments craft

For another take on creative play, visit my guest post on the Melissa & Doug blog all about handmade instruments! You’ll enjoy seeing how easily kids can make and play their own musical instruments.

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Trisha W.

Friday 16th of January 2015

I put one of those together for one of my sons last year and called it his invention box. Our recycle bin is never safe nor is any form of tape in our house when he is at home.

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