Tiny Toy Co.: Upcycling Toys

tiny toy co upcycling toys juicygreenmom

I was soooo excited when I found out about Tiny Toy Co. A company that collects unwanted small toys and toy debris (think of all those random pieces you come across and you have no idea what toy sets they belong to… or those games that are missing just the odd piece…) – and then puts them together into new toy kits!!! AMAZING!!!

Not only that, the founder, Rebecca Saha, is a teacher, so she creates all kinds of awesome learning kits with the toy pieces she collects! As a Speech Language Pathologist, I was thrilled to get some custom made speech sound articulation kits from her for my workplace.

Rebecca was kind enough to answer some questions for me so we can all learn more about Tiny Toy Co, and the work behind the scenes.

  1. What made you decide to start Tiny Toy Co.?

My teaching practice has always been centered around play-based learning, and I have always used tiny “language toys” in my reading instruction and literacy support work with primary students. I spent years collecting and organizing secondhand toys for my own teaching practice, because it always seemed ludicrous to me as an environmentalist that we were manufacturing these things things new, when small toys are ubiquitous in our homes and environment. My original circular economy business was a full-fledged children’s secondhand shop, selling clothing with a smattering of toys and books. As an educator and librarian, though, the curation of educational toys, games, and books were my passion. With Tiny Toy Co. I realized I could focus on these, and take my unique combination of “extreme” zero-waste toy rescue goals for the environment, and combine it with my expertise as an educator.

  1. What has the response from the community been?

The response from the community — here, and around the world — has been amazing. From my first viral post sharing the concept, and calling for “toy debris,” as I’ve dubbed it, to be sent my way, to the ongoing emails and notes I receive from families just grateful for a place to send their unwanted bits and pieces. We’re all aware that toy waste is a huge problem. Toys break, and pieces get separated from their sets. There’s no point even donating a game with half its pieces gone. Traditional resale shops toss a lot straight into their dumpsters as unusable. The Tiny Toy Co. concept of finding purpose for every piece has really resonated with people! Also, the current educational trends towards play-based learning, and “loose parts” learning have dovetailed beautifully with the Tiny Toy Co. initiative, for my fellow educators as well as with parents.

upcycled toys tiny toy co
  1. What kinds of things do you accept for upcycling?

The goal of Tiny Toy Co. is to rescue and sort every kind of toy, and pieces of toys and games, sorting and saving them for creative reuse. Our original games and educational activities of my own design then come into play. The trick to what I do involves combining a professional understanding of early learning, and educational curricula, with the sorting and curation skills of a teacher-librarian. By sorting and categorizing the pieces that come to us, I start with what there is, and design from the ground up. So, as well as holding onto great educational games and toys with missing pieces until that piece turns up — I do that too — I am collecting pieces and sorting like-with-like until I have enough bulk of something to invent a game or build a play set.

crayola marker caps tiny toy co
Reminder that we collect and reuse the caps from thick Crayola markers. We then recycle the marker bodies through the Crayola Color Cycle program! Visit tinytoyco.com for toy waste mail-in, drop-off and pickup options in Toronto.
  1. What are the most common things people donate?

The most common thing we see is McDonald’s toys. These are sometimes great, but there are just so many of them! While the tiny toys that look like little replicas of bananas, gorillas, giraffes, and so forth, get reused as language toys in sets for for teachers and speech-language pathologists, McDonald’s toys and other “loot bag” type toys just have straight-up play value. To deal with that, I invented what we call the (Re)Loot Bag (TM) — loot bags filled with age-appropriate, cleaned and sanitized toys ready for reuse. By including a teacher-designed play-based learning activity card, and a mission statement card, we’re spreading the news about toy waste, and the importance of upcycling. Each child who goes home from a party has a conversation with their parents about their own toy waste, and the movement spreads. Our goal is to stop some of the consumer choices that are currently happening — for example, perhaps we can encourage families to think twice about toys like LOL Dolls, which are more rigid plastic packaging than toy. Perhaps a family who has connected with Tiny Toy Co. will ask for a book on their next McDonald’s visit, instead of a toy — or at least make sure it’s one they really want before accepting it automatically.

incomplete kits tiny toy co
  1. What are the most popular things people buy from Tiny Toy Co?

We have two audiences at Tiny Toy Co. Educators like elementary teachers, ECEs, and speech-language pathologists come to Tiny Toy Co. for language toys (or “manipulatives” as they’re called in educational circles). These are the replica pieces that can help young children associate letters with sounds (think g is for gorilla, but also giraffe). Think of long and short A vowel sounds, in words like bat, cat, can, cane, map, cape, and so forth. We save and sort these tiny toys for use in teaching such concepts. Our second audience is, of course, parents. We sell refurbished toys and games, as well as original educational activities of my own design, for parents who want to provide screen-free, hands-on, and play-based learning opportunities at home. Our Loose Parts Learning Starter Set is our best-seller. It contains a deck of teacher-designed activity cards to turn toy pieces like those included in the kit, as well as your own at home, into learning activities.

alphabet kits tiny toy co
The ultimate A-Z letter sounds & counting set for play-based learning! 🐝 Inside are: uppercase and lowercase magnetic letters, including all the unusual fonts that kids sometimes struggle with in print (a, q, I, and others.) 🐝 Also in there: tiny language toys representing long and short vowel sounds, and all consonant sounds. 🐝 We’ve even included numerals 1-10 and counters representing the corresponding quantities. 🐝 Why are there 3 number four magnets, four Qs and more funny looking letters? Strong readers need to recognize letters and numerals in all their different fonts and forms! In fact, that makes secondhand magnetic letters and numbers even better for early learning than matched sets.
  1. What advice would you give to people who feel overwhelmed by trying to live an eco-friendlier lifestyle?

My favourite environmental quote has always been the words of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood: “Buy less, choose well, make it last.” Eco-friendly living isn’t about having special products, or throwing everything out to start fresh with better choices. The most radical and helpful thing you can do for the environment is much simpler than that: just slow down. Don’t buy so much. Realize that you need far less than you might have thought. Investing in one good cast iron pan (ours was thrifted secondhand, because that’s how we roll in my house) is worth a dozen snazzy new “nonstick” ones that will peel and warp in the years to come, landing in the dump. Start by looking at what you have, and caring for it.

Repair things, treasure them, maintain them well, and keep them as long as their utility allows.

When you do dispose of things, do so consciously and try to regime what you no longer want or need. Call us! We pick up!

I am so thrilled to support Tiny Toy Co.! I made this flyer to put up at my workplace so that we can send our toy debris to Rebecca to turn into these amazing upcycled things! You can download it for your own office, school, or daycare too. If you’re in the Toronto area, you can look for local drop-off bins as well.

tiny toy co flyer

Follow Tiny Toy Co. on Facebook and Instagram for awesome ideas on creative learning with toys!

What are your favourite upcycled learning ideas?

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