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20 Creative Frugal Uses for Ordinary Buttons

Frugal Parenting (featured column)
by Rachel Keller

As a little girl, I had a fascination with buttons. My mom kept an old tin can filled with various buttons. I loved playing with the buttons--feeling them slide through my fingers. My mom would have me search through the can of buttons for a suitable replacement whenever an article of clothing was missing a button.

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As a result, I started my own button collection. While in college, I worked in a laundry room. We would throw out old uniforms (but not before I scavenged the buttons). Through the years, I've accumulated a variety of buttons. I've also discovered some great ways to use those buttons.

1. Instead of buying new buttons, I search through my various cans of buttons to replace a missing button. I have a can for white and clear buttons and another can for colored buttons as well as baggies filled with matching buttons.

2. Do you like to sew? With a button collection, you may not need to purchase new ones.

3. Once I had an interesting t-shirt. It was covered with various sizes and colors of buttons. I loved that shirt, and when it got too old to keep, I removed the buttons to reuse. Your children may love having a button covered t-shirt!

4. Decorate or make an unusual tote bag. When I was teaching, I saw an interesting tote bag. One mother had placed various colors and sizes of buttons on the outside of a tote bag. The gift was beautiful, utilitarian, and very much appreciated.

5. Sew or glue buttons as eyes for puppets or dolls.

6. Make a necklace or bracelet with buttons.

7. Use buttons for homemade musical instruments. Place some buttons in two aluminum pie tins. Children will have fun shaking this homemade instrument. For a much quieter instrument, try stringing some buttons together and shaking.

8. Create an original work of art. Use your imagination and creativity. Glue buttons on a snowman or arrange in an artistic pattern.

9. Create a pretty frame. Use the top of a shoe box or cereal box to make the frame and decorate with various buttons. (See Creative Uses for Small Boxes for more unusual ways to recycle boxes.)

10. Make Christmas ornaments with buttons. Trace a star pattern (or any shape) and glue buttons around the edge to outline. You can cut out the center and just have an outline of an ornament, leave the center empty, paste a Christmas card or picture in the center, or decorate any way you desire.

11. Buttons can make a pretty decoration. Instead of just tossing buttons in a can, arrange them in a glass jar.

12. Practice sorting and classification. You can sort by size, color, or shape. An empty egg carton is great for counting, sorting, or dividing buttons.

13. Buttons are great for teaching young children repeating patterns. Place two, three, or four different buttons in a row. Repeat the pattern. Then have your child select the next button for the pattern.

14. Young children can also practice counting with buttons.

15. Use buttons for teaching addition and subtraction.

16. You can even teach multiplication, division, and fractions using buttons.

Multiplication: Make equal sets of buttons, such as 4 sets of 6 buttons (4x6=24) or 6 sets of 4 buttons (6x4=24).

Division: Divide a group of buttons into equal numbers of sets. 24 buttons divided into 6 equal sets is 4, and 24 buttons divided into 4 equal sets is 6.

Fractions: Give your child a collection of buttons of various colors. You have 24 buttons. Six are green. What fraction of the buttons are green?

17. Play games with buttons, such as dropping into a narrow jar, tossing buttons in a cup or onto a board with numbers for points or a bull's-eye type target.

18. Buttons are also great for bingo-type games as well as tic-tac-toe. We play several different educational games using buttons (Preposition, Alphabet Bingo, Word Bingo or Word Tic Tac Toe, Shape and Color Tic Tac Toe are several examples.)

19. Put a button on the end of a roll of tape. You can easily find the end of the tape, and no more struggling to get the tape started.

20. Use the buttons for good behavior and rewards. Allow your children to drop buttons into a container for reading so many pages, doing chores, or anything else you choice. Count the number of buttons at the end of the week and reward accordingly. You could choose to take away buttons for bad behavior as well. Another alternative is to start the week with so many buttons. Reward them for keeping the buttons. Most children love dropping things into containers, so I think giving buttons for good behavior is more effective, but you can use a combination of both methods.

While buttons are pretty and fun to play with, please teach your children never to put buttons in their mouths. Always remember to keep buttons out of reach of very young children.

Next time you're getting ready to trash an old shirt or dress, check for buttons and start your own collection!

Want more ideas? Read Fun, Creative Ways to Reuse and Upcycle Buttons

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Do you have a great use for buttons? If so, we would love to hear from you!

Readers' Ideas

"I LOVE to wrap gifts and a newer practice is to make a simple bow on the wrapped box (like a one-loop bow) and hot glue a line of different or same buttons on the top length of ribbon around the package.  You can even buy specialty buttons for seasons or boys/girls, hobbies, etc. at fabric stores for a customized wrapping effort.  I like to do a dry-run by just placing the buttons in their spots to see if the flow & sizes or color combinations are right.  I once made a row of simple white buttons and one pink heart button on a wedding gift package.  I am also dabbling in making my own greeting cards.  I like to decorate some with buttons and maybe even a special button at my signature. Along those lines, I think sometimes scrapbookers use buttons to liven up their pages." - Valerie D.

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Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Keller.  All rights reserved.

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