Simple Ways to Protect the Earth

Recycled Crafts: Turning Trash into Children's Treasures

There's a real art to helping your family go green. Save the earth and your wallet by introducing kids to crafts they can make with recycled materials rather than expensive art supplies.

The best way for children to play with paper towel rolls, empty cereal boxes and rinsed-out milk jugs is to let their imaginations run wild. Left to their own devices, children may create elaborate costumes by cutting head and arm holes in paper grocery bags. Or they may combine a shoebox with frozen juice cans and yogurt cup turrets to build a castle. Play along with them by adding some paper triangles taped to twigs for flags.

Aspiring architects can transform a large box into a dollhouse with scraps of leftover fabric used for curtains and rugs. Hang tiny pictures cut from magazines as pictures on the walls and make mirrors from used pieces of aluminum foil. When everything is arranged, you can glue the pieces together and paint the walls with tempera paint. Given enough boxes and cans, a group of children may create an entire community.

Check out more ideas for creative and earth-friendly play below:

Transportation Engineers

If you have a junior train conductor or aspiring racecar driver, fuel his creativity with these recycled crafts:

  • Oatmeal Box Train Tunnel

    Cut a used cylindrical oatmeal box in half lengthwise to create a car or train tunnel. Children can decorate the outside of the box with crayons or stickers, place the tunnels over tracks and send vehicles chugging through.

  • Toilet Paper Tube Rocket

    Add a construction paper nose cone and fins to a toilet paper roll covered in colored paper to make a rocket. Let your child decorate the tube and blast off!

Princesses and Pirates

If you have a lord or lady in waiting, let them indulge their royal fantasies on a pauper's budget.

  • Storage Bag Tiara

    Turn a clean plastic food storage bag upside down, cut off the bottom of the bag, and use scissors to cut pointy edges across the remaining plastic. The top will fit nicely on a young girl's head. Color the points with permanent markers or decorate them with leftover ribbon for colored jewels.

  • Paper Towel Spyglass

    Ahoy there! Help your pretend pirate spot enemy ships with a homemade spyglass fashioned from an empty paper towel roll covered in construction paper. You can also craft binoculars from two toilet paper rolls glued together. Attach yarn to the end, so your child can wear them around his neck to keep his hands free to dig for buried treasure.

Nature Lovers

These crafts help the earth twice, by using recycled materials and honoring Mother Nature.

  • Milk Jug Watering Can

    Make a watering can by punching holes near the top of a clean jug with a sharp nail. Let your child decorate the outside of the jug with markers or stickers. Fill the jug with water and give the garden a drink.

  • Paper Towel Roll Rain Sticks

    Rain sticks are musical instruments from South America traditionally made from the wood skeleton of a cactus. But your child can make one by cutting circles of cardboard slightly larger than the top and bottom of a cardboard paper towel roll. Firmly tape (masking tape works well) one cardboard circle to the top of the tube and add a few tablespoons of rice or dried beans and some crimpled pieces of aluminum foil to the tube. Tape the other cover on the bottom and cover the whole thing with colored paper and decorations. Shake and listen to the rain.

Sports Fans

No need to buy expensive equipment to support your little athlete!

  • Trash Golf

    Turn your basement or driveway into a golf course. For each tee, cut a small circle from cardboard, tape on an inverted cup snipped from an egg carton, and paint. For the holes, decorate cereal boxes or milk cartons and cut a hole in each large enough for the ball (which can be made of crumpled aluminum foil). Wrapping paper tubes make great clubs.

  • Water Bottle Bowling

    Partially fill used water bottles with colored water. Set them up like pins. Roll a tennis ball or small playground ball and…strike!

Animal Wardens

Future veterinarians and zoo-keepers can make crafts from household materials that showcase their love for animals.

  • Sock Puppets

    Put all those orphan socks to good use by gluing or sewing odd buttons and fabric scraps on the toes. Even young children can use fabric pens or markers to draw faces on white athletic socks to resemble rabbits, kittens, mice or other favorite animals. Make a theater out of a large cardboard box and stage a recycled puppet show.

  • Clementine Box Stuffed Animal Bed

    Does your child have a favorite teddy bear or other stuffed toy who needs to take a nap? Put him down in style in a snug wooden bed made from a box (like those used to ship clementines) painted with craft paint. Be sure to remove loose staples and splinters. Add some fabric scraps for blankets and pillows.

Gift Ideas

The best family gifts come from the heart rather than the mall. These easy crafts make great gifts for grandparents and other loved ones — while also saving natural resources.

  • Colorful Water Bottle Vase

    Cut the top off and remove the label from a plastic water bottle. Mix a solution of ¼ cup glue and 2 tablespoons of water. Paint a small area of the bottle with the glue mixture and cover with a strip of colored tissue paper. Repeat until the whole bottle is covered with glue and different colored tissue paper.

  • Old Tights Draft Dodger

    Make a crazy snake out of old tights to place across the bottom of doors to keep cool air inside in the summer and outside in the winter. Cut a leg off the tights and stuff with cut up strips of old fabric or rags. Sew the end closed and glue on felt pieces for eyes and a mouth. Decorate with additional scraps, buttons or other materials for a playful creature.

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