Tinker Tots: How to Take a Plush Toy Apart

Tinkerer: one who experiments with materials and ideas to fully understand their capacities, and who further iterates on their learning to find better solutions to current problems. 

Tinker tots: Take a plush toy apart, using an unloved toy.

Tinker Tots is a series of projects where I  share tinkering materials or tools that can be safely introduced as open invitations for children to explore and tinker.


  • Toy or Stuffed Animal that could be easily taken apart. Choose a toy that’s not well-loved, or do what we did and pick one out at the thrift store. Our criteria: A clean toy that my daughter was interested in deconstructing.
  • Scissors


To learn how a toy is assembled through hands-on exploration, and have fun along the way.

You might want to brace yourself for this one as it may seem a bit graphic. although my 4-year old didn’t seem to be unsettled by this at all. I’ll share some photos to inspire you, along with my daughter’s thoughts on the process.

tinker with stuffed animal

N was able to cut parts of the toy open, and I helped make sure she used the scissors safely and also helped cut the more difficult parts. She wanted to start by cutting off the doll’s arms.

N: Let’s call this “animal-cutting-open-pouch.”

Me: Do you like taking things apart?

N: Yeah, I do. This one is especially fun because it’s hard to cut open. When you open it you see everything inside.

tinker with stuffed animal

This was followed by cutting off the nose and cheeks, which she could tell were filled with fluff. She wanted to pull every last bit out, which we stored in a large bowl.

N: Now cut the nose off.

Me: What do you think is in there?

N: More cotton. That looks ridiculous!

tinker with stuffed animal

We turned it inside out to find some clues as to how it was made.

Me: How do you think this was made?

N: I don’t know. I wonder how they put the hair on. That’s a big mystery. But the biggest mystery is how they put the whole thing together. That’s what we’re trying to find out.

tinker with stuffed animal

Me: What did you think would be inside?

N: I thought cotton would be inside.

tinker with stuffed animal

Once the toy was disassembled, she came up with a plan to glue some of the pieces to paper, and this was followed by cooking with the stuffing. She also asked to save the stuffing in order to make our own stuffed toys. 

tinker with stuffed animal

Tinkering is about hands-on experiences, learning from failures, and unstructured time to explore and invent. And through the processes of exploration and invention lies the potential for innovation.

Do you think we were successful? We took a stuffed animal apart — can you think of other toys that could be easily and safely disassembled?

This project is inspired by the Exploratorium’s project: Taking Toys Apart. They have a wealth of tinkering activities on their site and it’s worth pouring over if you like this sort of thing.

More Tinkering Ideas

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  1. I do this with my daughters and we actually take it a step further and sew a whole new stuffed animal(s) out of the material.

    • That’s a great idea, and really teaches kids the value of materials through upcycling.

    • You’re so welcome, Amber. Giving your cardboard focus, now I’m thinking about deconstructing cardboard things. Hmmm.

  2. My first thoughts were that this is a great idea and then I showed it to C (almost 6) and she really was intrigued…almost too much. She of course questioned why you would want to do this? Then I thought back and remembered when I was angry with her for cutting up a toy last year! (I think she was thinking about that too) This daughter of mine loves scissors and I give her free reign of them so I guess I just worry a little. We definitely would have to reinforce that this is just for an old toy again and again.

    • PS: love your hat! We will give it a go and let you know how it goes.

      • Ha! Yup, I can see how this might not be the right project for C, especially at this time. But if you do give it a go, of course I’d love to know how it goes. And be sure to ask for your own stylish hat, okay?

  3. In answer to your question, “What else?” I think it would be fun to take apart a train locomotive and see how that works. Of course, the kids may have to be a little older.

    • Hmmm, i’m thinking you must be referring to a toy locomotive. if not, then yes, they’ll have to be A LOT older 🙂 we recently visited Los Angeles’ Travel Town where we saw a small-scale locomotive with explanations of all the working parts. Very cool and informative to both me and my 4-year old.

  4. This kinda freaks me out – I think I would start finding cut up stuffed animals all over my house! LOL

  5. My lil’one would cry for sure and wouldn’t let me do it. She’s in that sensitive phase right now where everybody needs bandages – even when we bump into each other. She’s 3yrs old right now. But sometime later I think we’ll definitely do it – I know I was always wondering back in my childhood how they make doll-eyes shut when put to sleep. I bet I’d love to find out even after all those years.

  6. I’m 11 years old. I’m going to try this to get the stuffing for toys I wanted to make for a while!

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