Toddler Telephones

by Deb on February 4, 2011

Toddler Telephone

Following on from yesterday’s post on playing with sounds, the girls have been talking to each other on the toddler telephone.  Incredibly easy to make, they do take a little bit of skill to use, mainly involving not jerking the string out and remembering to swap.


  • 2 plastic cups.  You can make a more elaborate version with cans, but cups work well.
  • String or wool.
  • Something to punch holes with.


  1. Punch small holes in the bottom of both cups.
  2. Thread the string through and tie knots so it doesn’t pull out again.
  3. There isn’t really a step 3.  You can decorate the sides of the cups if you want.

Give some basic guidance on how to use them, but it’s also fun if they work it out for themselves.  The main points are that only one person talks at a time, the string has to be straight and fairly tense, and they can’t hold the string or bottom of the cup.  So long as they don’t get too frustrated it can be good for them to problem solve and realise why it isn’t working, especially for things like loose strings.

cup telephone

What’s Happening?

It’s important to know that sound is just movement of air.  The air moves into your ear and pushes on your ear drum, which pushes the bones behind it, then the liquid behind them.  The moving liquid washes microscopic hairs on nerve cells in your ears back and forth, and your brain translates the movement into sound.

The cups work in a very similar way.  When you talk you are pushing air out of your mouth.  It hits the bottom of the cup and pushes it too.  If the string is tight the cup base moving pulls it back and forth, pulling on the cup at the other end.  When the base of the cup at the other end moves back and forth it pushes the air inside the cup, just like the air in the first cup.  It travels into your ears and you hear it.  If you gently touch the string while someone is talking you can feel the vibrations.

My two were just excited to be able to hear something, older kids can have a lot of fun passing ‘secret messages.’

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren @ Hobo Mama February 4, 2011 at 8:19 am

I remember loving tin-can telephones when I was a kid! I didn’t even think of trying them out with my little one. What a great idea! Now I’m curious to see if he can figure out how they work.
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lanka news, lanka newspapers February 4, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Thanks for this nice and beautiful post.I also done these things when I was in my child hood.
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Hear Mum Roar February 5, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I love how you turn the simplest activities into a science adventure. Thanks so much!


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