We all use them, we all have them and they are an excellent resource to have on hand for creative activities with children. This must have resource is recycled materials. The beauty of them is that they are readily available, versatile, can be enjoyed by children of different ages and when using them, the possibilities are endless and only limited by your imagination.

Egg cartons, bottle tops, tins, empty containers and old calendars are the staples in our recycled materials box, but it is an ever changing source of supplies depending on what we have been using.

Some creative experiences that inspire children to “think outside the box” while using recycled materials include:

Boxes are excellent to use as a canvas for creative activities. For example, use play dough, or craft supplies (pom poms, pipe cleaners, ribbon, feathers etc)  to transform a box into a delightful birthday cake. To do this, cover a box with white paper (to give it a neat looking base) and then it’s all about children using their imagination as they “decorate” a box and turn it into a spectacular looking cake. My older children will often choose a theme (fairy, beach, puppy dog and mermaid are among the current favourites) and decorate their “cake” using play dough.

Boxes are also ideal to use for painting activities. Why not mix it up by covering a box with white paper, then cut some random shapes out of the box (in various sizes) and secure something like honeycomb mesh (available from craft stores) or any sort of material that can be used for threading purposes over the cut out holes (children can thread feathers, pipe cleaners and other bits and pieces into these spaces. Older children could also thread beads and buttons onto the pipe cleaners). Incorporating a new element such as threading into a drawing, or painting, on a box is sure to get the creative juices flowing. 

Bottle tops come in handy for all sorts of creations. Recently we made bottle top scenes. To do this secure clear pieces of contact (sticky side facing out) to a glass door or window. Collect some bottle tops and other bits and pieces (such as craft feathers, coloured pieces of paper, leaves, flowers or whatever you have on hand). Set the challenge of creating a scene, your children may decide to make bottle top people, a bottle top car, house, boat or whatever they desire.

Recycled materials such as bottle tops also come in handy when making magnetic creatures or robots. Cover a tin in coloured paper (for appearance purposes only). Secure magnetic strips (available from craft stores and hardware stores) to the back of bottle tops and other recycled materials you may have on hand (egg carton cups, ribbon reels etc). Children enjoy securing the home made magnets to the tin to create characters.

Don’t throw out gift wrap. It can be a source of inspiration for drawing. Children can cut out figures, shapes from gift wrap and collage them onto paper. Children may enjoy incorporating a drawing into their collage.

Old calendars can be an excellent resource to have on hand. The pictures from calendars can be used as back drops for play dough creations. I have also used the pictures from calendars to make lacing cards for my children. The pages containing the dates make excellent board games too. I modified the snakes and ladders game to help my son with number recognition to make a “cars and tow trucks” game. If you land on the bonnet of a convertible you slide your marker up to the boot of the car to land on a higher number. If your marker lands on the front of a tow truck you slide your marker down to the tray of the tow truck and then land on a lower number.

Recycled materials are an invaluable resource for children to create with. They are guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing and inspire a child’s imagination. For more ideas about using recycled materials, creative thinking and play ideas visit Creative Play Central at www.creativeplaycentral.com.au and click over to the Facebook page and sign up for the newsletter.

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  • craft is a great way to recycle and why not.


  • We love recycling with craft – it makes for creative kids


  • Play Schools good old useful box. Can’t count the number of hours we spent creating things


  • We have a useful box full of empty boxes, plastic bottles, cards, magazines etc They love dipping into it fir arts and crafts


  • Its very good to know! Thanks for sharing this article!


  • My kids love creating things with left over stuff. I am pretty amazed at some of the things they make.


  • Great ideas, thanks for sharing!


  • i always try to recycle this way or donate this type of stuff to my child’s school


  • Lots of goodies to recycle after Christmas; perfect for creative projects.


  • Love, love these ideas! My kids are always making strange contraptions out of stuff from the recycling, but I love to hear of new ideas and tips to pass onto them. The magnets on the tins are a great idea.


  • Cool ideas maybe the recycle box is the answer to my girls from raiding my craft stash!


  • Interesting article and ideas. I love recycling and repurposing. Thanks for the article.


  • Why buy craft items when we throw out so much stuff that can be recycled.


  • Loving the ideas here, thanks for sharing the website also, so many things we could make.


  • Some childcare centres and kindergartens recycle items such as cereal boxes. I gave one of my work colleagues some which she gave to the kindy. A few days later it went back home to her all decorated up with other pieces of recycled bits and pieces. She laughed about it. She knew it was one of the packets I had given her as I had written on the inside of it.


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