10 ways to reuse medicine cups for play

January may be over, but it’s still the start of a new year and no one has stopped talking about the KonMari Method by Marie Kondo. The Japanese author of the book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” can be seen in an 8 episode show on Netflix. Kondo inspires people to “choose joy” through tidying up and it seems to have a positive ripple effect on relationships within the homes in this series who commit to this process.

But before you get to tidying up the “miscellaneous” items step of her method, don’t go throwing out extra medical supply items, such as the container filled with plastic syringes and medicine cups, just yet! Read below how both you and your children can find joy, while also promoting positive coping with medical experiences, in the many different ways to repurpose medicine cups!

10 ways to use medicine cups to spark joy!

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  1. Medical pretend play

    Young children benefit greatly from opportunities to freely engage in pretend medical play. In these instances, this is where a child gets to be in control and play out their interpretation or experience of medical related encounters. Here is where a parent, or child life specialist working to help children cope with medical experiences, has the opportunity to assess their understanding, fears, and when appropriate, clear up any misconceptions. Medical play can be done before, during, and after to help children cope with specific medical experiences, like routine vaccinations or more serious procedures done at the hospital. If you don’t have a toy medical kit yet, I highly encourage you take a look at my medical gift guide for toddlers and my medical gift guide for preschoolers!

  2. Easy water play

    Most toddlers love water play. Next bath, toss in those extra medicine cups for a new spin to their fun and watch their eyes light up. It’s a simple joy to see how switching up something as simple as the size of cups can be so exciting to them!

    Oh, it’s not bath night? Give yourself a dose of peace to cook dinner or tidy up by letting them play on the kitchen floor, or better yet outside, with a bowl of water and medicine cups. Sure, it gets a little wet, but it’s an easy set up and it’s fun. Your kids also won’t even realize how strong your parent game is with your hidden agenda of desensitizing them to what might be an object they have a negative association with and resist when they see coming their way.

  3. Ink/paint stamping

    With all that there is to juggle on a daily basis, it can be easy to overthink how much effort or materials are needed in doing a hands-on sensory play or art activity with young children. With young children, a good reminder for the new year, is to keep it simple. There isn’t anything complicated about using medicine cups to make art! The only other things you need are paper and either an ink pad or paint. Let your young child have a blast filling their page with different colored circles or “bubbles.”

    If you want to take learning a step further and they are familiar with “The Hungry Little Caterpillar,” have them make an overlapping line of circles to make their own caterpillar. Older children could be encouraged to design a scenery using only the cup as their “paintbrush.”

    Why not join the fun yourself? While you’re watching your favorite show after the kids are in bed, use the cups to make circles for those dot pages toddler and preschool kids love. There are ton of ideas floating on the web.

  4. Simplify your craft or sensory play set up

    Recycle medicine cups to hold paint, glue or bead. It’s so easy to put out more supplies than a child actually needs. The extra paint, foam pieces or whatever else it is will just end up everywhere. Using medicine cups as the perfect small portion size their crafty heart needs. It saves you money, time on clean up, and frustration!

  5. S.T.E.A.M. activities

    Kids tend to find joy in using novel objects to explore, create and build. Try surprising them with medicine cups, pipe cleaners, Play-Doh or Model Magic to make a 3D robot, monster or anything they choose.


6. Play-Doh impressions/circle shapes

Maybe you have a toddler who isn’t quite at the stage of building such an object as a robot. Next Play-Doh session, skip all the animal shapes and other tools that came in their Play-Doh gift set. Instead, leave out a few medicine cups and maybe some large dry noodles to explore and create with.

7. Props or tools for sensory play bins

Sensory play bins offer many therapeutic and learning benefits for young children. There is an infinite amount of ways to promote sensory exploration, learning and imaginative play.

Medicine cups can become buckets for rocks, “soil,” sand, or “mud” for a garden sensory play experience. Or maybe they are small “sand buckets” for a fun beach themed sensory bucket. Check out popular “Ocean Treasure Dig” water play sensory activity that involves practicing fine motor skills and problem solving! It was a hit with the three-year-old crowd!

8. Ingredient cups for baking

Baking with young children can bring such joy in this bonding experience, but not if there isn’t an amount of prep work done before they get involved. Without considering their attention span and sense of judgement, it can be chaos with 4 extra hands grabbing for the large bag of flour or, sugar or salt. To make it a fun experience for all and to truly experience joy of cooking with children, try using medicine cups for brown sugar, vanilla extract, or salt portions, as an example. Or as an alternative you can use a syringe for the vanilla extract or other small liquid ingredient needed. These smaller objects can be portioned out just right, are easier to hold, and often quite entertaining to them when used in this way.

9. Potty training pretend play

Children learn about the world around them through exploration and play. They learn to master new skills, including potty training, through observation, trial and error and play! We know potty training isn’t quick and easy for all, but the point is that young children can strengthen their understanding of this new concept through play. Of course there are fun doll toilets for purchase, but if your young one has small figurines they seem to favor, why not use some extra medicine cups you already have as mini toilets?

10. Get child to drink fluids when sick/post surgery with board game play

Kids can be quite stubborn. When a child is hospitalized (or just having a bad day), they often resist to parental direction, like drinking fluids or taking medicine, to gain a sense of control back. And of course, they might also be refusing because they are feeling unwell. If you’ve experienced this as a parent, you are absolutely not alone. Know that this is normal and can be quite exhausting for all of us parents. Try utilizing play as a way to improve cooperation with drinking fluids to aid in their recovery.

Divide up the doctors ordered amount of liquid your strong-willed 3-year-old is being instructed to drink. Incentivize them to drink the small cup (doesn’t have to be whole 5 ML filled) before each turn they take during a simple game like “Don’t break the Ice” or “Candy Land.” Smaller cups may be more appealing (FUN!) vs an intimidating large cup with line drawn on it to mark the goal.

Utilize Play to Improve Coping with Medical Experiences

While in many ways it’s great to declutter, minimize or “tidy up” your home for the new year, having an extra handful of safe medicine items for play does more good than harm for families with young children. Allowing children to explore, familiarize and have a sense of control using safe medical items like medicine cups or plastic syringes, can improve coping with medical experiences and stressful tasks like medicine taking. For more tips from child life specialists to help children facing hospitalization, illness, injury or death, subscribe to the doseofplay.com newsletter and follow Dose of Play on social media using the links below.