City Weekend

How to get kids off the iPad and spark their interest in self-made toys from recyclables

Hong Kong man has a vision to bring back creativity and the spirit of playtime by holding workshops on converting everyday items into inventions for children

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 1:00pm

For as long as he can remember, Paul Lai Chun-yip has been making toys out of anything he can get his hands on.

“Growing up in a family that wasn’t well-off means I didn’t often get the latest toys in the market. So I became creative with things I found lying around the house,” Lai, 33, says as he prepares for a toymaking workshop at the Kwun Tong Community Green Station.

Participants in the session will create something beyond just a small plaything – from six to seven large pieces of cardboard and two hours of planning, measurements and cutting, an actual slide is built from the ground up.

Besides making toys from recyclable materials, Lai, the founder of A New Toys, wants to challenge the stereotype that such items are only for poor people.

“It is more about value rather than the price tag,” he says. “Expensive doesn’t always mean better quality. Why overspend on a branded toy when you can make one just like it?”

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“Showering your children with pricey gifts will only satisfy them in a superficial way and it doesn’t last. But if you spend the time to build something yourself, you are creating something memorable that can last more than a few minutes.”

The group organises the workshops once a month for parents and their children. Participants can sign up on A New Toys’ website or through Facebook for a fee of about HK$100 to HK$150 per person.

“Kids nowadays are too overwhelmed by electronic toys and technology. Firstly, these things are not very environmentally friendly. Secondly, it gives them the impression that they don’t need to be resourceful,” the former social worker for children explains.

Showering your children with pricey gifts will only satisfy them in a superficial way
Paul Lai, A New Toys

“These children are more likely to throw out their toys when they get tired of them. They also have a shorter attention span because they find it hard to focus.”

From self-made pinball machines to foosball tables, Lai has done it all, giving new life to a shoebox or discarded water bottles as they become raw materials for his latest invention.

“To be honest I don’t know much about design or the structures of toys. It’s all about exploring and thinking outside the box,” he says, adding that creativity is a trait that is lacking among children today.

“When they see a cardboard box, that’s all they see. But when I was younger, the box came with lots of possibilities and that’s what being creative is about.”

“Not everything will come with instructions and that is the beauty of play. As long as we make sure that safety comes first, there are no rules or restrictions during playtime and creative moments.”

Among the attendees at Lai’s workshop are six-year-old Emily Lee Wing-hei and her mother Sally Wong Sho-lee.

Wong, 28, says her daughter spends a lot of time after school on her iPad. “Whenever she isn’t doing homework, she will either ask to play online games on the iPad or ask for new toys because she gets tired of her old ones quickly. I have trouble finding a new toy for her that would be beneficial for her development.”

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But after attending Lai’s classes with Emily, Wong says the search for proper toys for her daughter is no longer a problem.

“All Emily wants to do now is to make her own toys. This is such a change in her personality. She is more quiet now during her free time. When I ask what she is thinking about, she would tell me some of the ideas she has for turning discarded items into toys.”

The Primary One pupil’s enthusiasm has turned her into a pint-sized inventor – her latest design is a simple coin separator. “I made it from a shoebox and some small paper cards,” she says.

“This would become very handy for my parents; it can help sort out their coins when they come back from shopping at the wet market.”

What goes into eco-friendly toys that can be made at home?


– Clothes pegs

– Chopsticks

– A big box

– A marble

Capsule toy vending machine

– An A4-sized shoebox

– A round plastic bottle

– Recycled plastic capsules

– An A4-sized plastic folder

Pinball machine

– An A4-sized cardboard box and lid

– Wooden skewer sticks

– A pair of wooden chopsticks

– A4-sized cardboard pieces

– Rubber bands