Arts and Crafts are a creative way of expression and an important part of fun, learning, and child development. However, we need to be certain that the materials being used are safe for kids as well as for the environment. There are a myriad of art projects that can be completed by reusing materials that would have otherwise been discarded, thus giving those items a new life while reducing the need for the production of new materials. Get creative and see what you have around your house, school, yard, or community!
- Stanford: Recycled Materials: A resource for young children’s creative expression and design
- Penn State: Environmentally friendly activities for children
Using Items Around the Home
Look around your kitchen and in the recycling bin for arts and crafts ideas and materials.
Cardboard can go as far as your imagination will let it!
- Cut and tape or glue together cardboard to make the perfect sized jewelry box. Use paint too!
- Take several boxes and turn them into a miniature house or fort
- Create small robot figurines
- Create a larger robot costume for yourself
- Make a sculpture out of cardboard
Egg cartons can be reused instead of being thrown out.
- Use them to grow seedlings in the first few weeks
- Get your scissors and paint out to turn them into decorative flowers and other designs
- Color them to match your room and use them to sort and store small beads or other items
- Take a carton row and make it into a caterpillar or ant
- Take an individual section and paint it to look like a mushroom
- Create an entire natural scene when combining your crafted insects and mushrooms
Cans can also have a new life!
- Cover one in colorful paper and turn it into a pencil holder
- Get creative and make one into a DIY piggy bank
- Add construction paper, googly eyes, and pipe cleaners to make monsters
- Make a wind sock by adding string and gluing on crepe paper
Plastic bottles can be given a new life as well.
- Cut out pieces from a milk jug to turn them into flat beads for necklaces or decorations
- Use two plastic soda bottles to create a mini tornado in a bottle
- Create a mini terrarium inside of a bottle
- Use the bottom half of a bottle and some dirt to create a space for new seedlings to grow
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Tornado in a bottle
- Public Broadcasting Service: Milk jug DIY jewelry
- Thinkery: DIY egg carton flower
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Repurposing with a purpose
Reusing and Recycling Arts and Crafts
You already have so many other materials around the house just waiting to be used. Consider the following:
There is a lot that can be done with old clothing!
- Use old materials to create contrasting patches to add to other clothing
- Cut strips of material and weave them into something new
- Dye an old shirt to bring it back to life
- Create a cloth flower bouquet that won’t wilt
- Turn old materials into new banners and decorations
- Cut up old jeans and make one of the legs into a purse
Broken crayons can be given a new life. Do not forget to remove the paper wrapping before creating art from old crayons!
- Melt the crayons and pour the wax into molds to create something new
- Put crayon shavings between two pieces of wax paper and iron them to see a colorful design emerge
- Melt, add together, and reshape old crayon pieces to make new crayons at home
Even old markers can be upcycled!
- You can make a jump rope with string and old marker caps
- Leave old markers tips in a jar of water to create colored water for water painting
- Glue old markers onto paper or cardboard to make some very artistic art for the wall
Old CDs are also a great source for arts and crafts.
- Line them up alongside each other on a wall and create a makeshift mirror
- Hang them on string to create decorative chimes that will catch the sun and wind
- Create a model of the planet Saturn
Buttons can be reused for various projects.
- Glue them onto thumbtacks to make artsy tacks for a bulletin board
- Attach them to hairpins to create a new look
- Glue them onto cardboard to create words, designs, and button murals
- Attach them together to create new items including bowls and pencil holders
- Use string and buttons to create keychain ornaments and home decorations
- Levi Strauss Foundation: Kid-friendly crafts made from denim
- Reset: DIY Upcycled kid’s clothes
- Recycle Art: Upcycled crayon art
- Utah State University: Reuse: Creating a next life for common items
- NASA: Make a CD Saturn
Outdoor Arts and Crafts
One great thing about preserving nature is that we get to enjoy it! Take a walk outside and see what you can collect. Pine cones, twigs, feathers, flowers, interesting leaves, and even grass can be used to create some beautiful projects.
- Make a dreamcatcher using twigs, feathers, and string
- Create a wreath of flowers
- Use reeds to weave together a placemat for the table
- Use leaves as stamps to create amazing designs
- Paint rocks to bring them to life
- Create a natural birdfeeder using pinecones, seeds, and peanut butter
- Texas Parks and Wildlife: Arts and crafts
- Missouri Department of Conservation: How to make a pinecone bird feeder
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Holiday decorating with fresh greenery
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Drying and preserving flowers and plant materials for decorative use
Other Arts and Craft Ideas
Are you still looking for more ideas? Here are some of our favorites:
The National Aquarium has a how-to page for making a kite with recycled materials that you can find around the house.
The Wisconsin Green Schools Network has a huge guide that includes ideas for reusing egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, oatmeal containers, paper bags, and more.
The OpenLab at City Tech has suggestions for making beautiful holiday gifts with reused glass jars.
Are you interested in creating your own handmade paper? CalRecycle has a step-by-step lesson plan to follow.