Are your kids anything like mine? We go through reams of copy paper, economy-sized packages of construction paper and miles of posterboard. I feel like we’re constantly buying crayons, markers, pom-poms, sequins, glue, tape and other arts-and-crafts items. They just love to create, which is wonderful! We have tons of sparkly sculptured doodads decorating various horizontal and vertical surfaces of our home, posters advertising random things (my daughter’s latest creation is a huge, multi-colored sign that says “Tag Sale,” with an arrow… but no garage sale plans are in the works!), and paintings galore. While I love seeing the creativity and passion, it can be hard on the pocketbook. I recently read about a concept called “recycled art,” and I think I’m going to encourage my kids to give it a try.
Most of us use recyclables in our kids’ art, I’m sure. For example, we often use washed yogurt or applesauce containers as water cups when the kids paint, make caterpillars out of inverted cardboard egg boxes, or let them decorate coffee cans to use as pencil holders. You can think even more out of the recycling box, though, and use what you might consider nontraditional materials to stock their craft boxes. Here are a few ideas to get you started, but remember that this is an exercise in creativity and ingenuity, so encourage your kids to use whatever materials they want, barring safety concerns (such as those that might arise with preschoolers using glass jars, for example).
- Think about what kids can use for foundations instead of expensive papers and posterboard. One sturdy solution is to cut down all of those boxes that come into your home, either in the mail or from the various items that you buy. I slice up boxes as soon as they come in, and the kids use the blank sides as canvases for their art. The best part about these is that paint and glue does not seep through very easily, making sculptures and collages less messy.
- Save the caps of soda and beer bottles, milk jugs and juice containers. These come in different colors and sizes, and could be used for a variety of crafty projects. Let them make patterns, collages and sculptures. Also, soda tabs can be used in the same way. One caveat: watch your little ones to make sure they don’t get their fingers stuck in them. Trust me on this.
- Just like any family with kids, we have lots and lots of toilet paper tubes. While they once filled our bathroom wastebaskets, now I save them, and the kids use them for all sorts of things. They’ve made binoculars and bird feeders (cover them in peanut butter, then roll them in birdseed and slide over the thin branches of trees). They’ve also taped them together to make intricate tunnel systems for matchbox cars.
- When you have candles that have burned down or wax tarts that have lost their potency, start saving the wax in a metal coffee can. Mix up the scents and colors; it doesn’t matter. Once you have several inches of wax in the can, slowly heat up the can right on the stovetop. The kids can make candles out of this wax. One way is to let them pretend that they’re pioneers: Have them dip wicks first in the wax, then in a glass of cool water, alternating, until the candle is as thick as desired. They can also use a variety of molds (glass baby food jars, maybe?) and techniques to make different shapes. Obviously, this is something that you will need to supervise very carefully to prevent burns and other injuries!
For the next few weeks, challenge your kids to really think about what they might be able to use as art supplies before throwing anything away or filling the recycling bin. It should not take long before you have a big enough supply of odds and ends to keep them busily creating, without it taking such a toll on your budget. Always keep safety in the forefront of your mind, though; look for breakable items and rough edges, and watch your younger ones very carefully.
Do you have any suggestions for recycled art? What materials have your kids used to create masterpieces?