With the Kids

Playing With Trash: Cardboard Cell Phones

When you don’t have money for a new toy, get creative and make your own out of recycled cardboard. I made two flip-type cell phones out of cardboard for my sons, and they played with them for hours. Kids have big imaginations, and often get more fun out of simple (REALLY simple) toys than they do from over-the-top expensive toys.

I get discouraged when I buy toys and then my kids don’t play with them longer than five minutes. It makes me feel like I wasted money or chose the wrong toy. I feel bad about myself when I buy cheapo plastic toys in the dollar aisle at the store. My solution to all these negative feelings? I think “What would Laura Ingalls do (if she lived in the 21st century)?” Okay, I don’t know if Laura’s 21st century kiddos would play with trash-turned-toys or if she’d fall victim to the same challenges as we do when it comes to entertaining our kids. What I do know is that kids don’t understand or care how much toys cost. They just care if the toys spark their imagination.

One solution to combat mommy-toy-guilt (and I’m all about combating guilt in any form) is to give my kids toys that I make for them out of stuff that is on its way to the trash can. I find myself returning to this idea again and again (do you remember the Lego playhouse I made out of an old yogurt box?).

Supplies for Cardboard Cell Phones:

  • a piece of cardboard (corrugated is good)
  • heavy-duty scissors or X-acto knife
  • Pen or markers

Making a cardboard cell phone could not be simpler. Cut a rectangular piece of cardboard (leave a notch at the top for an antenna), and draw cell phone details on one side. You probably have cooler phones than I do, so just make your cardboard phone the appropriate shape for phones in your household.

Great things about the cardboard cell phone: it’s free to make, easy to replace if lost, easy enough to make for multiple children, is a good toy to stash in your purse in case you need an emergency toy. In addition, there are educational reasons to play with a pretend phone: teach your child about phone use (including phone etiquette and phone numbers), or help your child develop her imagination and social skills.

Making cardboard toys doesn’t stop with cell phones. Use cardboard to make nearly any toy you can think of – it doesn’t matter if they’re only 2D. Your child will enjoy playing with them no matter how basic they look. Ideas for other cardboard toys: tools (saw, hammer, etc.), kitchen items (a cardboard box turned into a stove was a big hit in our house), or pretend makeup (glue a piece of foil in your cardboard compact!).

Like I said, my children really enjoyed this simple toy, and played with them for hours over the course of a week, until they fell apart. No problem, though! Next time I need a quick activity for them, I can make one of these in about thirty seconds. Score one for mom!

Contributor: Heather Mann is the mother of three boys, ages 4,  2, and 10 months. Yikes, they’re all mobile! She publishes Dollar Store Crafts, a daily blog devoted to hip crafting at dollar store prices, CROQ Zine, a print magazine devoted to hip crafting, and also CraftFail, a community blog that encourages crafters to share their not-so-successful craft attempts.


  1. Oh, this is just too easy! I love it. I think I’ll need to take these with me shopping with the kids, something to do in the shopping cart!

    And I love Lalania’s idea to use these phones in the car! They could call all their friends from the road!

  2. I love this post. I hate when my boys play with their toys for one day and are done. It’s so true that they don’t care at all how much something costs. I need to start getting more creative with my trash. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. I love this idea so much. When we were kids, my sister and I used the leftover 2×4 scraps from our newly constructed house to make computers, speaker phones, TVs, doll houses, balance beams and all sort of things to play with. Adults sometimes go so overboard trying to give kids toys when the box it came in, or a simple piece of cardboard will entertain them far longer than anything that cost a lot of money.

  4. Thank you! I will soon be embarking on a 13 hour car ride with my 2 sons under the age of 5. This is just the extra trick I need for my bag of surprises to pull out on the road!

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