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Simple Art Activities for Preschoolers Using Recycled Cardboard

Apr 09, 2024    |   Art & Music

Utilizing recycled or found materials in early learning programs has many benefits for educators and for the children in their care. For teachers, recycled materials are an engaging, budget-friendly material that can be used in the classroom in a variety of ways. For young children, using found materials encourages creative thinking while building a foundational understanding of recycling, reusing, and sustainability. In this article, we share some fun art projects that use recycled cardboard to enjoy with the children in your care. 

A Note on Collecting Materials

Many of us typically toss out used cardboard items such as shipping boxes, shoe boxes, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, and paper towel rolls. However, by creating a space where these items can be collected, you are likely to accumulate a large number of materials that can be incorporated into creative activities and projects. 

If you are unable to collect enough cardboard on your own, you might ask parents to bring in cardboard items that they would like to get rid of. You can also consider visiting local stores to ask whether they would like to donate their boxes to your program. 

Cardboard Art Activities for Young Children

The following art projects are open-ended, meaning that there is no intended outcome or final product. Open-ended projects encourage children to be creative and use materials in ways that they find exciting and interesting. When you offer these types of activities to the children in your care, allow them to lead the way and come up with their own ideas for interesting and unique art displays.

Nature Shadow Boxes

These shadow boxes are made using recycled shoebox lids and a variety of natural items collected from outside. Start by taking the children outside and encouraging them to collect a variety of natural items, such as fallen leaves, sticks, pebbles, and anything else that they find interesting. Next, offer each child a shoebox lid and show the children how to pour liquid glue onto the inside of the lid. (Younger children might require support with pouring the glue.) 

Then, invite children to place their natural items into the glue. Once they have arranged their items, offer the children tempera paint and brushes so they can sprinkle different colors of paint onto the glue. When the children are done, set their shadow boxes in a safe place to dry for a few days. (The drying process can take several days, depending on how much glue was used). Once the glue has fully dried, the shadow boxes are ready to display!

Cardboard Self-Portraits

In this unique activity, pieces of recycled cardboard become canvases on which children can create self-portraits. You’ll want to cut a cardboard box into a variety of square and rectangular shapes ahead of time. Then, when you are ready to get started, offer each child a cardboard canvas along with a paint brush and paint. It can also be helpful to give the children mirrors so that they can look at themselves and paint what they see. 

As an optional added step, you can help the children make hangers for their portraits using wire and beads. Invite the children to select a handful of beads that they would like to thread onto a thin piece of wire to create the hanger. Of course, if you do not have these supplies available, the paintings can always be hung without them. 

Box Decorating

For this simple activity, you will need cardboard boxes in different shapes and sizes, as well as a variety of art materials you already have on-hand. Decorating materials might include markers, crayons, stickers, stamps, dot markers, and even small pieces of recycled construction or tissue paper with glue sticks. You can encourage the children to work together on their boxes and to try lots of different decorative materials. Once they are done, invite the children to use their decorated boxes in any way they would like! You might be surprised by how many games and activities they come up with.

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