Repurposed Preschool: Gutters

We mamas tend to feel anxious about things related to our children’s education, believing that we must enrich and enroll and engage our children’s lives from the time they are born. We sign them up for classes, haul them around to every activity, and buy them shelves full of “educational” games, books, toys, and devices, all in the name of enrichment or getting them ready for the next step in life. It can be exhausting! There’s nothing wrong with a tumbling class here or a story time there, but if you’re feeling like you’re running yourself ragged trying to keep up with all of the activities on your calendar, take heart.

Sit down, take a deep breath, and open your eyes to the simplicity of childhood through your little one’s eyes. Notice your five-month-old with a crinkly wipes container, your two-year-old with a full box of tissues, or your four-year-old with an empty cardboard box, and you will see something astounding…our children are natural-born learners! They are curious! They are very capable of engaging with things they find interesting. They have amazing attention spans when something sparks their interest. And they really require very little to be engaged and interested in the world around them.

As an early childhood educator, I’ve got firsthand knowledge of what the BEST toys are for preschoolers: Toys that capture the attention of children across age and ability levels. Toys that spark their curiosities and promote experimentation and teamwork. Toys that are open-ended and educational! Toys that cost very little, because they aren’t actually toys at all! You might even have them in your home already. Come along with me. Let me tell you about GUTTERS.

The Material: GUTTERS. Gutters of all kinds: short ones, long ones, open ones, closed ones, bendable or rigid, metal or PVC. Don’t have a gutter? Pick one up at the hardware store. Or, you can use any kind of tube or chute, like a wrapping paper tube or paper towel roll.

The Invitation: Prop one side of the gutter on something about your child’s height. Leave the other side on the ground, or prop it on a container or basket. Offer another material to be the gutter’s “cargo”. Maybe a garden hose outside, turned on to just a trickle. Maybe a basket full of balls or marbles. Maybe matchbox cars. Anything that can travel from one end of the gutter to the other.

Catching the water      tubes and balls Repurposed pre-k

The Learning:

  • Gravity!
  • Flow of liquids
  • Volume
  • Friction
  • Momentum
  • Experimentation: What happens when the end of the gutter is moved higher? Lower? Balanced?
  • Teamwork: One child sending something down while another receives it at the bottom
  • Sensory exploration: Touching the flowing water, hearing marbles rattle through a metal pipe, seeing colorful balls whoosh down the track

In addition to all the awesome learning that’s happening, it’s so rewarding to just see your kids’ pure joy as they play.

Teamwork - repurposed pre-k     Joy - ball repurposed pre-k


Your turn to share, mamas! What are your kids’ favorite “non-toy” toys? Why do you think they enjoy them?

**This post is part of a series entitled Repurposed Preschool. Each post will feature an object or material that can be given a new purpose as a toy. If it makes you feel better, you can call it an Early Childhood Educational Tool. J I’m hoping that this series empowers you as your child’s first and most important teacher, because that is what you are, mamas. 

Lianna is a homesteading mama of three: a sparkly seven-year-old daughter, a joyful five-year-old boy, and a confident three-year-old boy. After graduating from the University of Iowa’s college of education, she started Wondergarten Early Enrichment Home, a multi-age, play-based early childhood program. A self-proclaimed Queen Dabbler, she has a long list of hobbies (from gardening and canning to sewing and painting), and doesn’t mind being only mediocre at all of them. She lives with her husband, mother, three kiddos, dog, cat, rabbits, dwarf goats, and chickens on an acreage in the country. The Cornally family spends their time talking about education, learning how to grow and preserve their own food, and romping around in their woods.


  1. Awesome post, Lianna!!! Our kids are in love with bubble wrap!!! Popping those tiny little circles provides hours of entertainment in our house! They also find great pleasure in tape, any kind – scotch, masking, duct… they like it all! Haha!

    • Thanks, Tara! I am of the opinion that if it captures their attention and they find joy in it, it must be valuable in some way! Even if it’s just scotch tape. 🙂 Do you ever let loose and just let them go nuts with tape? I’ve done that with my preschoolers in the past, and was pleasantly surprised at the outcome! We burned through a lot of tape, but they were creative, engaged, and got tons of fine motor practice in the process!

  2. This is so great, Lianna! Excited for this series! I’m always so surprised at how a water bottle can entertain Julia for what seems like hours. Looking forward to more repurposing ideas!


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