top of page
  • Writer's pictureVicki Manning

Recycled play - cardboard tubes

Contains affiliate links to products we own (or similar) - see our disclosure policy

I love using everyday items to play and learn.

I'm embarrassed to say I get giddy at the idea of a car boot sale, and waaay too excited by a nice bit of recycling. Maybe it's the suppressed hoarder in me, but I can't help but stash. The thing is, I know that we can have some fun with them, and I just love coming up with ideas.

This week I gave Mr 2 a selection of cardboard tubes I'd been hoarding for a few weeks. Children love playing with loose parts such as tubes - they don't have a fixed use so there is an opportunity to experiment, be curious and get creative.

Types of tube to play with:

  • Mail tubes

  • Kitchen roll inners

  • Guttering

  • Wrapping paper inners

  • Straws

  • Sweet tubes

  • Cellotape centres

  • Swim noodles

  • Bobbins

  • Crisp tubes

  • Hosepipe offcuts

My favourite thing about cardboard tubes is that they are free and readily available, plus you can recycle them once you are finished playing!

This is what we got up to with our fab selection of tubes. With each of the activities I 'modelled' the play first so that Mr 2 had an idea of what we could do. I find that getting stuck in means my boys are much more engaged from the beginning.


We are huge fans of this classic - I just taped some of our tubes to a (cold!) radiator and then we dropped pompoms in the top to see what would come out the end. It's the perfect activity to demonstrate gravity as well as learn about cause and effect.

I used washi tape to secure the tubes and gave Mr 2 pompoms in the corresponding colours so I could introduce colour-sorting.

They were different sizes so he would have to experiment with what would fit and what wouldn't.

Mr 2 played with this on-and-off all day until Mr 6 got home from school and joined in!


This is a great little activity to develop your child's fine motor skills, which are the small movements using the hand and finger muscles.

Give your little one a range of tubes and different sized balls and encourage them to balance the balls on the tubes.

Some balls were much bigger than tubes and easy to balance
Some balls were too small and went inside

Mr 2 loves balancing so much and spent around half an hour happily playing with this. He had a little help with the taller thin tubes, but was very persistent in balancing all the balls himself. You could tell he got a real sense of achievement when he succeeded (and a lot of frustration when he didn't!)

Balancing the tall thin tubes was tricky
He asked Mummy for some help with these

At the end we had lots of fun knocking them down and starting again!


It's never to early to introduce some STEM and demonstrating size and capacity through play is a great way to start. This activity can also be used to help teach babies object permanence, which the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen or heard.

I gave Mr 2 some objects to fit in his tubes:

  • Ball of foil

  • Toy cars

  • Plastic frogs

  • Satsuma

  • Ribbons

  • Feather

  • Plastic fork

  • Beads

  • Button

  • Comb

I chose a selection of sizes, textures and colours so that I could use lots of descriptive language when he played.

This chunky bead went in easily
But the car was a bit too big

Mr 2 enjoyed trying to fit things in - he spent lots of time dropping the chunky bead through the long tubes and wanted me to help him thread the ribbons through the smaller ones. This tray stayed out for a couple of days and he ended up coming back to it quite a few times.


Not only will this sensory bin help develop fine motor skills but it can be very calming and helps regulate emotions. This is one that needs to be closely supervised; if you have a baby that mouths a lot then only do this if they are able to understand the word no.

Choose a sensory base and pop it into a tray. We had some rice died purple using food colouring and scented with lavender oil that was leftover from the summer.

Sensory materials good for scooping and pouring:

  • rice

  • sand

  • dried beans

  • lentils

  • pasta

  • old tea leaves

  • water beads

  • epsom salts

  • corn

  • birdseed

  • oats

Add some tools for scooping and pouring, such as spoons, scoops and jugs as well your cardboard tubes.

Mr 2 enjoyed using the tubes as little funnels by scoping rice in with a spoon, they made a great sound as the rice poured through. He then used his Learning Resources handy scoop to fill the short tubes.

He concentrated really hard on scooping up the rice without dropping it

I left this activity out all day and Mr 2 kept coming back to it. Then Mr 6 joined in when he got home from school. Sensory play is always a winner in our house!

Need some more ideas for your tubes? Try:

- having a ring toss

- creating a stacking game

- playing pirates

- filling them with rice to make rain sticks

- having a game of skittles

- dipping in paint and stamping circles

- cutting them in half to make ramps for cars

- using hot-glue to make textured rolling pins

- making binoculars using washi tape


For more playful and creative learning ideas visit:



Related Posts

See All


bottom of page