Ultimate Guide to Recycled Holiday Crafts for Kids

Making holiday crafts from recycled materials is a fun way to cut back on waste. 
Making holiday crafts from recycled materials is a fun way to cut back on waste. 
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Decorating for the holidays can be fun for the whole family. Some disposable holiday decorations, however, can create a lot of excess waste and can also be expensive. In fact, between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, people in the United States produce 25 million more tons of trash than they do during the rest of year [source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection].

You and your family can help make this figure smaller by recycling. If you make recycling a fun activity for the family to do together, your children may be more likely to develop good recycling habits on their own as they grow older [source: Parents].


One way to start making recycling fun is to have children make some of their favorite holiday crafts out of recycled items. You don't have to wait until the end of the year to make recycled holiday crafts, either -- you can make crafts for any holiday.

Reusing old items to create holiday crafts is even something your family can turn into a tradition. Say, for example, your children like to do a particular snowman craft during the winter. Have them make their snowmen every year. Before you know it, you'll have enough for a sizable collection. You and your kids will see their crafting skills and ideas grow and evolve over time, and you'll have a great set of holiday decorations to display year after year.

Many craft projects for kids may seem to follow certain patterns and instructions, but don't feel as though you have to stick to the rules. Encourage children to experiment and develop their own ideas. Maybe they'll even think of additional household items to recycle into their projects, giving holiday decorations a whole new spin in the process.

To get started, read the next page to find ideas for recycled Christmas crafts that kids can make.


Recycled Christmas Crafts for Kids

As you're wrapping presents, chances are you'll have small, oddly-shaped scraps of wrapping paper left over. Don't throw these out -- you and your children can use them to make decorative bows to add a festive touch to your gifts. All you'll need are your scraps, clear tape, scissors and small squares of cardboard. You can find something else to reuse for the cardboard, too, such as a cereal box or the back of a notebook.

Start by cutting the wrapping paper scraps into strips about 4 inches (10 centimeters) long and about 0.5 inches (1.5 centimeters) wide. Cut the cardboard into squares with sides about 1.5 inches (4 centimeters) long. For young children, you may want to prepare the strips and squares ahead of time. Next, fold eight strips (print side out) into loops and tape the loops around the edges of the cardboard square. Put four more loops in the spaces between these, and keep filling in spaces until you get to the center of the bow. Put one more loop in the center, affix the bow to a present with tape, and you're done [source: Lake].


While giving is great, you may also want to try some Christmas crafts with kids that they'll keep instead of using as part of a gift. Empty aluminum cans make great snowmen. Have kids cover the cans with white paper. Bunch up newspaper into a ball for the head, cover the head in masking tape, tape it to the top of the can and paint it white. Children can color faces and accessories on their snowmen with markers or glue on other craft supplies such as pom-poms, pipe cleaners or googly eyes [source: Make-Stuff].

If the thought of snowmen makes you shiver, read on for some springtime recycled Easter crafts for kids.


Recycled Easter Crafts for Kids

In order to both cut down on waste and find a place for your kids to stash their candy, eggs and other Easter loot, help them make bunny-shaped Easter baskets out of items you already have in the house.

For example, many families can go through a half gallon of milk or juice pretty quickly. There's no need to discard the containers, though. Instead, half-gallon cardboard milk or juice cartons make quick, simple and fun Easter baskets. Lay the jug on its side with the spout facing toward you -- this will be the rabbit's nose. Then, cut out the long, top side of the container so that only the part of it near the spout is still attached. Fold it back up toward you, and cut a slice down the middle so that it's shaped like two, long bunny ears. They should be bent up as if they stick out from behind the rabbit's face. This also creates an opening in the container for you to stuff with Easter treats.


Children can glue cotton balls to their bunny baskets for a furry effect and attach pom-poms or other objects on for the rabbit's eyes. Then have them stick pipe cleaners around the nose (the spout) to make whiskers. When kids are through decorating their bunnies, line the inside of the carton with felt -- but just be sure you remembered to rinse it out first [source: Cathers]. When finished, you can either set it out and fill it with eggs and candy, or add some fabric and create a handle to carry it around.

If your family drinks milk from the plastic gallon jugs instead, you can still use them to make bunny baskets. Set the jug down, right side up, and draw a face on the front side opposite the handle. Then cut out the top side of the jug and cut down around your face to create an ear shape, but be sure not to cut the handle, so the children will be able to carry around their baskets. This also forms the opening where you'll store the Easter grass and candy. Kids can then proceed to decorate their bunnies with cotton balls and other craft supplies [source: Kaboose].

You can use old milk cartons for recycled Thanksgiving crafts, too. Read the next page to find out how.


Recycled Thanksgiving Crafts for Kids

Your kids can help you recycle milk cartons, paper bags and old pens with this turkey pen and pencil holder project. Use small milk cartons, such as the single-serving kind found in most schools. Be sure to rinse the carton well when kids are finished with their milk and let it dry. Then get some old brown paper grocery bags and have kids use them to cover the sides of their turkey cartons. Remind them that if there is any writing on the bags, it should face the carton so that it doesn't show.

Lay the carton lengthwise on a flat surface, and poke a brown lollipop into the top of the carton on the closed side, which will be the turkey's head. Gather old pens and instruct children to glue a colorful feather made of old paper scraps to each pen. Place these pens in the open end of your milk jug for the tail. Children can decorate their turkeys further with markers or colored pencils if they like [source: Russell].


To create little Thanksgiving characters, use old paper towel or toilet paper tubes as a base. You can even use a wrapping paper tube that has been cut into smaller pieces. Next, wrap scraps of felt around the tube for clothing and make a face for your character. You can draw it directly on the tube, or you may make one on a piece of paper and attach it. Your kids might want to make fall scarecrows or pilgrims, for example [source: Formaro]. Small leftovers from other crafts make great accessories for your tube characters -- just use whatever is taking up space in your craft containers.

You can make characters for any holiday out of just about anything. For some ideas on items to use for Halloween crafts, continue reading.


Recycled Halloween Crafts for Kids

CDs are great for playing spooky songs on Halloween, but they're good for more than just sound effects -- old CDs can be recycled into Halloween decorations, too.

To make a haunting Halloween ghost, paint both sides of the disc white. After the paint dries, color or paint on the ghost's mouth and eyes in black. The hole in the middle of the CD will be the ghost's nose, which you will also use to hang the ghost when you're finished.


You can also use this project to deplete that big stash of plastic bags you've been meaning to take back to the store, too. Cut a white plastic bag into strips about one inch (2.5 centimeters) wide and glue the strips around the bottom side of the CD. When you hang your ghost outside, the strips will blow in the breeze, giving the illusion that your ghost is hovering. Hanging the ghost with clear thread, such as fishing line, is best for a floating effect [source: Zambri-Dickerson].

Let children get creative -- embrace any ideas they have to decorate their ghosts for a truly unique decoration. A ghost with pink pom-poms for eyes may be uncommon, but a little decorative diversity can be fun, and it provides a chance for your kids to find more items to reuse and recycle around the house.

Egg cartons can be easily transformed into a variety of holiday characters, too. To make scary Halloween witches, cut the bottom of an egg carton into sections of two by two squares. Give each child one of these sections for his or her witch's face. Instruct kids to paint the indented side of the carton green. After the paint dries, they can color on eyes, warts or other facial features. Make the witch's hat from black construction paper and glue it on top of her head [source: Elmers].

On the next page, see what household items you and your kids can use to make crafts for Hanukkah.


Recycled Hanukkah Crafts for Kids

If you've got a baby or toddler at home in addition to older children, your older kids can turn any empty glass baby food jars into a festive Hanukkah menorah. Just gather eight small empty jars -- but don't forget to clean them out first. You may want to use a larger glass jar to hold the Shamash (the candle used to light the other eight), but if you don't have one, a ninth small jar will work just as well.

Provide children with glue and craft jewels to affix to their jars. If you can find jeweled stickers, those will work even better. While jewels are a recommended decoration, don't feel as though you must follow the directions exactly for this craft or any other -- children may come up with their own ideas when making these menorahs or other decorations.


After jewels are secured to the baby food jars, each child should roll a small amount of clay into a ball. This will hold the candle in the bottom of each jar. Make sure candles are the appropriate size for your kids' jars and that they stand tall enough [source: Amazing Moms]. If you have old Hanukkah candles lying around the house, you can even recycle those by using them for this project. As a safety precaution, do not let children light their own menorahs alone. To see this project shine, you or another adult should be in charge of any matches or lighters and also be sure that lit menorahs are in a safe location where they won't accidentally get knocked over.

You kids can recycle other food containers into Hanukkah crafts, too. Consider using cans that once held soup or vegetables to make Hanukkah gift baskets. You'll need to prep this project for kids first, not only by cleaning the cans and ensuring there are no sharp edges, but also by drilling holes in the sides at the top of the cans where children will attach the handle. Once cans are prepped, have children paint them blue. After the paint dries, children can decorate their cans with silver glitter and ribbons, even creating stars of David or other designs on the cans if they choose. Have children use pipe cleaners or festive ribbon to make a handle through the holes you drilled [source: Kaboose].

Up next, discover what Kwanzaa crafts your kids can make to celebrate the holiday.


Recycled Kwanzaa Crafts for Kids

Your kids can recycle all those extra wrapping paper tubes leftover from the holidays into poles for a paper Kwanzaa flag. Cut the tubes into smaller lengths - paper-towel tubes are good for this craft, too. Have children paint a sheet of white paper with Kwanzaa colors: red, black and green. For a flag effect, children should paint both sides of the paper, so you'll have to allow time to let the first side dry. Instruct children to paint their wrapping paper tube or paper towel tube black. After everything is dry, glue the painted flag to the flag pole [source: Crayola].

To make a Kwanzaa Kinara, you can use old baby food jars, similar to the Hanukkah menorah project on the previous page. The difference lies in how your kids decorate their jars. One way to make festive candle holders for Kwanzaa is to use pieces of African-themed fabric. Have kids cut cloth into seven circles with a diameter of 14 inches (about 35 centimeters). Saturate the cloth circles in liquid starch, set one jar in the center of each circle, and fold the cloth up over the sides of the jar, tucking it into the top of the jar. These will need to dry overnight before in the candles can be inserted. You can use clay to keep the candles in place, or melted wax serves as a good alternative -- just remember that for younger children, you should handle the wax yourself to ensure that everyone stays safe. As with any project that involves candles, you'll want to help the children light the Kinaras. Also, use tall candles to avoid catching the fabric on fire, and make sure the candles are burning in a safe place [source: Making Friends]. Battery-operated candles may also be appropriate.


For more ideas and variations on recycled holiday crafts for kids, visit the links on the following page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Amazing Moms. "Hanukkah Craft Ideas for Kids - Baby Food Jar Menorah Craft." June 1, 2009 (Accessed 1/17/10).http://www.amazingmoms.com/htm/holiday_hanukkah_jewel_menorah.htm
  • Cathers, Tracy. "Easter Bunny Baskets." Kinder Art. 2010 (Accessed 1/14/10).http://www.kinderart.com/seasons/bunnybaskets.shtml
  • Crayola. "Kwanzaa Flag." (Accessed 1/17/10).http://www.crayola.com/crafts/detail/kwanzaa-flag-craft/
  • Elmers. "Spooky Egg-Carton Witch." Teachers Projects.http://elmers.com/Projects/ProjectDetail.aspx?item=26§ionid=2&catid=2
  • Formaro, Amanda. "Cardboard Tube Scarecrow." Family Corner. 2009 (Accessed 1/14/10).http://www.familycorner.com/family/kids/crafts/cardboard_tube_scarecrow.shtml
  • Kaboose. "Hanukkah Gift Can." June 1, 2009 (Accessed 1/17/10).http://crafts.kaboose.com/hanukkah-gift-can.html
  • Kaboose. "Recycled Milk-Jug Easter Basket." June 1, 2009 (Accessed 1/14/10).http://crafts.kaboose.com/holidays/easter/recycled-milk-jug-easter-basket.html
  • Lake, Jane "How to Make Recycled Wrapping Paper Bows." All Free Crafts. 2010 (Accessed 1/13/10).http://www.allfreecrafts.com/recycling-crafts/paper-bows.shtml
  • Make Stuff. "Pop Can Snowman." 2010 (Accessed 1/13/10).http://www.make-stuff.com/recycling/popcan_snowman.html
  • Making Friends. "Kwanzaa Candle Holders." 2009 (Accessed 1/17/10).http://www.makingfriends.com/world/kwanzaa_candle_holders.htm
  • Parents Magazine. "Make Recycling Routine." March 2008 (Accessed 1/17/10).http://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/green/kids-recycling/?page=1
  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. "Recycled Christmas Tree." (Accessed 1/13/10).http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/airwaste/wm/RECYCLE/Tree/tree.htm
  • Russell, Lisa. "Thanksgiving Crafts and Turkey Projects." Suite 101. October 23, 2008 (Accessed 1/14/10).http://homeschooling.suite101.com/article.cfm/thanksgiving_crafts_and_turkey_projects
  • Zambri-Dickerson, Jennifer. "Recycled Halloween Crafts - Ghost Theme." Suite 101. October 14, 2009 (Accessed 1/16/10).http://crafts.suite101.com/article.cfm/recycled_halloween_crafts_ghost_theme