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10 Affordable & Green Arts and Crafts Ideas for Kids

By Kristia Ludwick

craftsKeeping kids entertained indoors can be a challenge. Finding fun activities for children in the summer, however, is not an issue. I send them outside and they play on the swing set or ride their bikes for hours. But when the weather is bad and they’re trapped inside, I need a plan. Inevitably, I will hear, “Mom, I’m bored.” This means I need to be ready with craft supplies and ideas to make those long, “boring” days fun.

I have learned over the years that craft projects keep the kids engaged for a couple of hours and the supplies don’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Look around your home. Many things can become a blank canvas for your children to stretch their imaginations. At the same time, you can re-purpose materials that might otherwise be headed to the trash.

10 Recycled Craft Supply Ideas

1. Egg Cartons

Egg cartons can be turned into silly, crawly creatures, such as spiders, caterpillars, and lady bugs. Cut a row of cups from the carton, turn them upside down, and paint. Once they are dry, add wiggly eyes, pipe cleaners, glitter, and stickers.

My oldest daughter is reading all of the works from author Eric Carle at school, so she recreated one of her favorites, the title character from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

the very hungry caterpillar

2. Cardboard

We rarely throw away cardboard because it makes the best canvas for children who love to paint and color. We use any size cardboard, from big packing boxes to the insides of cereal boxes, and the sturdier cardboard makes a great blank canvas for painting.

My oldest daughter recently made a life-sized cardboard doll by cutting and gluing different sized pieces of cardboard together and then painting them with her favorite colors and designs. However, if your child is not into dolls, use pieces of various sizes to create trains, robots, and jungle animals. Then, use paint, markers, and glue to pull the masterpiece together.

3. Magazines and Old Calendars

Use the pictures in old magazines and calendars to make mosaics or collages. First, have your child draw an outline of a picture on construction paper or cardboard. Next, cut the colorful pictures from magazines or calendars into small half-inch or one-inch squares. Finally, glue the pieces onto the drawing to fill in the outline. Voila, you have a beautiful mosaic!

4. Plastic Milk Jugs and Two-Liter Soda Bottles

Milk jugs and soda bottles can be cut and made into bird houses, jack-o-lanterns, piggy banks, toy carriers, and bowling pins, to name a few. Wash and dry them thoroughly and use acrylic paint, markers, and stickers to decorate.

To contain all of my daughter’s tiny little doll pieces, we created a beautiful and effective toy carrier out of a plastic jug. To make your own toy carrier, cut the milk jug leaving the handle intact and decorate with paint, stickers, or markers. You now have a toy tote that is light enough for the kids to carry and small enough to store on their book shelf.

milk jug toy tote

5. Paper Towel, Toilet Paper, or Gift Wrap Tubes

The possibilities are endless with empty paper towel, toilet paper, and gift wrap tubes. For example, two empty toilet paper tubes can be made into binoculars for your “Dora the Explorer” or “Go, Diego, Go!” fans. Just decorate the tubes with markers or crayons, tape together, punch a hole on one end of each tube, and pull a long piece of yarn through to make a strap to slip over their heads.

Gift wrap tubes can also be colored and made into swords. And a paper towel tube can be turned into a wand by decorating the tube with crayons, markers, and glitter-glue, and gluing colorful yarn at one end.

Another fun and unexpected use for toilet paper tubes is to turn them into flower petals. Paint the tubes and allow them to dry. Then, flatten the tube and cut into sections about a half-inch wide to create one petal. Pour glue onto a small paper plate and dip one edge of each petal into the glue. Next, arrange the petals on cardboard or poster board to create a flower and draw the scenery with paint or markers.

paper tube craft

6. Shoe Boxes

Shoe boxes can be transformed into a treasure box to store your child’s special keepsakes or into storage boxes for their toys. Simply decorate the box with pictures from magazines or calendars, or construction paper, paint, and crayons.

7. Empty Oatmeal or Potato Chip Cardboard Containers

Empty oatmeal or potato chip containers make great piggy banks. Cut a slit in the plastic lid big enough for coins and bills to pass through. Then, decorate by painting or by gluing on construction paper or magazine pictures. In the photo below, my kids cut out pictures of their favorite characters from a magazine and glued them on the container.

oatmeal cardboard crafts bank

8. Greeting, Holiday, and Birthday Cards

Birthday and holiday greeting cards are often discarded only a couple of days after they are received. This is unfortunate because they provide great graphics for craft projects! Cut out the pictures from the card to make collages and recycled greeting cards, or use them to decorate the treasure box and piggy bank craft ideas above.

9. Nature

Cut a wreath shape out of sturdy cardboard. Then, take your kids for an outdoor nature walk to collect fallen leaves, acorns, dried flowers, and pine needles. Once you have gathered these, use craft glue to attach their nature items onto the wreath. For a very special look, you can paint the cardboard wreath and let it dry before attaching your finds.

10. Large Round Coffee Filters

Large round coffee filters are another canvas alternative. Make a butterfly by flattening one coffee filter. Then, paint with watercolors and allow to dry. Once dry, fold like an accordion or a fan, and twist a pipe cleaner around the center to secure the folds. Next, turn out the edges of your butterfly, and finally, turn down the ends of the pipe cleaner to form the butterfly’s antennae.

coffee filter crafts

Additional Money Saving Tips for Arts & Crafts

1. Always Use a Coupon
Craft stores, such as Michael’s, AC Moore, and Jo-Ann’s, routinely offer 40% or 50% off coupons on a regular priced item in the Sunday newspaper. You can also join their email list to receive additional coupons. I never set foot in those stores without a coupon.

2. Shop the Back-to-School Promotions
Many retailers, such as Target, Rite-Aid, Staples, and Office Max, run incredible deals on paper, crayons, glue, scissors, and other supplies during the months of July and August. The deals can run as low as 25 cents for these supplies, though stores might limit how many you can purchase. Still, this is a great time to stock up for the year.

3. Purchase Clearance Merchandise
I have found great deals on craft supplies such as glue, markers, card stock, glitter, stickers, and pipe cleaners in the clearance section of stores like Target, K-Mart, and even my local grocery store.

4. Print Free Online Coloring Pages
On a rainy day, I print off blank coloring pages to entertain the kids. Check out Sprout Online, AGKidZone, and Disney Junior for your children’s favorite characters. These sites update their printables often and add new ones that reflect the current holiday or season.

5. Shop at the Dollar Store
Purchasing dollar store items is a great way to get the basics for cheap. You can find things like scissors, coloring books, glue, coloring pencils, poster board, and foam letters. The $1 price tag is hard to beat.

6. Protect the Craft Area
I have learned the hard way that the table and floor surrounding your child’s art project need to be protected. Paint spills and splatters, glue sticks, and markers always seem to go off the page. But there is no need to purchase a drop cloth. Simply keep the area protected with old newspapers or an old sheet.

7. Use Old Adult T-Shirts for Smocks
When one of my daughter’s dresses was ruined with “washable” paint, I realized the kids needed to wear a smock. They now wear my old t-shirts for their smocks and they haven’t ruined any of their own clothing since.

8. Recycle Containers to Store Supplies
I like to store the kids’ art supplies in containers that would otherwise be headed to the recycling bin. Coffee cans, 32-ounce yogurt containers, and baby wipe tubs provide great storage for pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, glue sticks, markers, crayons, and many other craft supplies.

kids making art

Final Word

Rainy days stuck inside don’t have to be dull and boring. When you give your children supplies and let them use their imaginations, they will stay busy for hours. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a creative environment either. Use the tips above and look around your home for supplies you already have. Then, provide your kids with a safe work area and a little direction, and soon you’ll be flush with masterpieces!

Do you have any craft ideas using recycled materials? How do you save money on art and craft supplies?

(photo credits: Kristia Ludwick, Shutterstock)

Kristia Ludwick
Kristia writes about family finances, frugal living, and food at Family Balance Sheet. She spends her offline time raising her two daughters, helping her husband run a small business, and training for her first half-marathon.

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  • http://twitter.com/moneytrailnet MoneyTrail.net

    Great ideas! One of my family’s favorites was to make homemade playdough. We had fun cooking the dough and often added a packet of powdered drink mix so it would smell good. I stored it in a ziploc bag and the kids would play with it for weeks.

    • http://www.familybalancesheet.org Kristia

      Our store-bought playdough dried out recently and I ended up throwing it away. Making it at home sounds like a fun idea for the kids. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/moneytrailnet MoneyTrail.net

    Great ideas! One of my family’s favorites was to make homemade playdough. We had fun cooking the dough and often added a packet of powdered drink mix so it would smell good. I stored it in a ziploc bag and the kids would play with it for weeks.

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