Teaching and learning

8 recycled crafts for zero-waste fun

There are hours of fun hiding in your recycling bin.
recycled crafts animation
January 26, 2022
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Imagine you’re a 5-year-old and you’re being told about these plastic water bottles that ended up piling up in the ocean, and harming the fishies living there for hundreds of years.

Now instead, imagine you’re this 5-year-old who’s just discovering that a plastic bottle doesn’t need to turn into waste once empty.

You could use it to build your own cool bird feeder, or a miniature planter box, or so much more.

This is the reason why recycled crafts activities are your best allies in helping the little ones learn all about waste reduction and recycling. It’s a way to help them discover all the fun they can have in giving old objects a new life and purpose. To be effective, they need to be particularly fun, creativity-stimulating, and easy to join in.

And these are precisely criteria that we’ve used when putting together this selection of 10 recycled crafts activities for children.

1. Help them create their funny egg head planters

Source: Playdough To Plato

Why consider this recycled crafts activity: Children get to learn about plants (like how their seeds need water, soil, and sunlight to grow) all while discovering that they can have so much fun and get creative while reusing items hanging around them.

What you’ll need: 

  • Eggs
  • Seeds
  • Soil 
  • Permanent markers 
  • Cardstock

How you do it: Start by carving out holes at the top of the eggs, no larger than the size of a quarter. You’ll drain the egg from this hole, and let the shell dry. Next, encourage your children to draw some cute, silly faces on their eggs. Once done, let them fill in the eggs with soil, then spoon the seeds in and, finally, water them. Expect to see the children excited over the next few days, wondering whose eggshell head will sprout first.

Tip! Consider having some extra eggshells at hand in case the drawing step leads to some… cracking little accidents.


2. Help them build their own paper roll dragons

Source: Frugal Fun For Boys and Girls

Why consider this recycled crafts activity: Children learn that they get to create something really cool (and have loads of fun while doing it) out of used objects as common as toilet paper rolls.

What you’ll need:

  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Cardboard egg carton
  • Cereal
  • Googly eyes
  • Paint (acrylic works great)
  • Scissors
  • Glue 
  • Origami paper or tissue paper

How to do it: Cut the dragons’ heads from the indents of your egg carton. Then, encourage the children to paint their toilet paper rolls and the dragons’ heads and help them glue the heads to the bodies. Next, add the dragons’ googly eyes, and help the little ones attach their wings, arms, feet, and horns after you’ve cut them out of craft foam. Cut dragons’ tails from the cereal box cardboard you’ve prepared, help the children attach them, then encourage them to paint the tails, too. Have the spikes glued on, then cut the dragons’ flames and let the little ones insert them into their dragons’ mouths.


3. Help them learn basic science concepts playing with cardboard tubes

Source: Social Studies

Why consider this recycled crafts activity: You’ll be helping them discover, explore, and learn STEM concepts through play, all while making them aware of the importance of reusing and repurposing things.

You’ll need:

  • Cardboard tubes

How to do it: As previously stated, as a practitioner you have an incredible power in making the world a little greener. So, instead of discarding the cardboard tubes in your setting, you can use them for activities like encouraging them to observe how each tube behaves, once rolled down a ramp and how that relates to their different lengths. Or what happens if they crush a tube and then try to roll it? What can they see when they look through them? Pair these activities with open-ended questions that'll encourage them to get confident and explore the world.


4. Cardboard flower collage

Source: Frugal Fun For Boys and Girls

Why consider this recycled crafts activity: From cardboard boxes to toilet paper rolls, to egg cartons, this activity challenges children to perceive “waste” differently, and turning household materials into a brilliant, creative collage.

You’ll need:

  • Cardboard (consider a mix of cardboard from cereal boxes and corrugated cardboard)
  • Cardboard egg cartons
  • Toilet paper rolls (paper towel rolls)
  • Paint 
  • Scissors
  • Glue

How to do it: Cut cardboard squares or rectangles and encourage children to paint them sky blue. Next, cut out the little flowers and encourage them to paint their flower pieces, then help them glue them to their cardboards. What makes it one of those creative recycling ideas that children love is the fact that they get to make their own designs — it’s important to give everyone space to let their own ideas come out.  

5. Help children make chair fidgets out of old T-shirts

Source: WeAreTeachers

Why consider this recycled crafts activity: It makes children aware of the useful things made out of recycled materials (not just of the creative or fun objects they can create), and gives them an important tool to help fidget and self-regulate while in the classroom.

You’ll need:

  • Old t-shirts (the more colors, the merrier)
  • Needle
  • Thread
  • Scissors

How to do it: Start by cutting the old tees into strips and sewing their ends — it’s best a grown-up does this part. Then, let the children help you braid them together. Next, just wrap the ends together and secure them. Wrap them around the chair legs and that’s it: let your little helpers try them!


6. Help children build a soda bottle bird feeder

Source: WeAreTeachers

Why consider this recycled crafts activity: Not only is it centered around the idea of giving a new life to a used object, but it encourages the little ones to be aware of nature around them, and to develop a sense of responsibility and connection with the little creatures.

What you’ll need:

  • Craft knife
  • Pencil
  • String
  • Large plastic bottle

How to do it: Cut a rectangle out of the bottle, then pierce it, using your craft knife, for inserting the string that’ll hold it. It’s best to keep children away for that first step. Then, let your children insert the pencil that birds will use as a perch, and invite them to add seeds to the bottom of the bottle. Consider encouraging children to sing a song about birds (maybe a rhyme that would encourage them to dance) and asking them open questions about their favorite birds. You can hang your feeders outside your classroom window, or invite children to bring them home.


7. Encourage children to thread cardboard bead chains

Source: The Imagination Tree

Why consider this recycled crafts activity: The little ones get to have lots of fun saving some used wrapping paper tubes from going to the trash, all while practicing their motor skills through play.

What you’ll need:

  • Cardboard tubes (wrapping paper tubes would do)
  • Paint
  • 4 pipe cleaners

How to do it: Cut the cardboard tubes into pieces of similar length, and let the children have fun painting them. Next, twist together the ends of your 4 pipe cleaners into one long piece ending in a circular loop, that would prevent your beads from falling off. Then, children can practice their threading skills, use it as a necklace, or see it as a colorful snake and drag it around the room.


8. Build boats from recycled materials

Source: Frugal Fun For Boys and Girls

Why consider this recycled crafts activity: The children get to have some splashy fun, all while learning about STEM concepts like buoyancy.

What you’ll need:

  • Various recycled bin items: bottles, lids, plastic milk jug, egg cartons, styrofoam tray, etc.
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape

How to do it: Cut a boat out of the plastic milk jug and let them try it to see if it floats. Then, encourage children to experiment with other objects at hand (even the egg carton), so they get to explore different materials and discover which ones absorb water and which ones don’t.

The big ideas

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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