Earth Day is coming up and it is a theme I use daily in my classroom. After having taught art in classrooms where the annual budget was sometimes zero, I have the motto that recycling is my friend and there are cheap and easy ways to be kind to mother earth.With more budget cuts in education, supplies are one of the first areas to go. Using recycled and free materials is a great and easy way to teach fun lessons without emptying your own pocketbook.
Where to find recycled materials? I collect some items throughout the year to use in my classroom and bring them in as I get them. Old magazines and newspapers come to mind. If I need something more last minute, I always ask and people are more than happy to share things that would normally go to the trash. Some cities and town may also have places that collect items that would otherwise go the the trash. Here in the Chicago area a great resource is SCARCE. I have gotten many great items from them that seem as good as new to me even though other schools decided there was no need for them.
Here are some ways you can use cheap and free recycled materials in your classroom.
- Use newspaper torn into strips for paper mache. This could be used to make pinatas, planets, animals, and more. If you are on a very tight budget flour and water mixed make a very cheap paper mache glue. Mix it to the consistency of thin yogurt. Make sure it is not too thick or lumpy!
- Use newspaper for covering surfaces when you are painting or doing anything messy in your classroom.
- Newspaper can be used as stuffing. I have seen newspaper stuffed in between paper to create 3-D looking animals and more.
- For a cheap origami paper, cut newspaper into squares.
- Use newspaper to create a pot for seedlings and plants. It is environmentally friendly and can be planted directly into the ground!
- I used these as storage when I had only a small cabinet in my tiny classroom that I had to share with another teacher. I piled two layers of cardboard boxes filled with supplies on top of my cabinet. I kept the supplies I used less often at the bottom and rotated the boxes if I needed to. To keep it looking nice I bought a very cheap piece of cloth that I used like a sheet to cover the boxes.
- Use cardboard as construction materials such as when making things like buildings, a puppet theater, landscape models, and more.
Tubes and Rolls
- I love using tubes (empty wrapping paper tubes) and empty paper towel rolls for many different things. One of my favorite projects is using tubes to make rain sticks! You can find my lesson for making your own rain stick here.
- Empty tubes can also be turned into kaleidoscopes, imaginative periscopes, totem poles, vases for faux flowers and legs for newspaper animal bodies.
- Cutting tubes apart into rings can make beautiful designs that would be perfect for lessons on symmetry or geometry.
- Whatever you find you can make creative use of! In the photo at the top of this article is a finished product after having my students make things that have to do with nature using recycled materials. They used empty chip bags, soda cans, and whatever they could find and the results were great! This would make a great end of a unit type project. I also have a former colleague that auctioned these off during a parent night and gave the proceeds to an environmental organization. Great idea there!
- Use leftover plastic to create mock Chihuly sculptures with your students. They look gorgeous and the students will feel proud that they used recycled materials.
Please feel free to share how you use recycled materials in your classroom. I am always open to new ideas!