Don’t Throw That Away! -Why Teachers Love Upcycled Art Materials

Ever been to a preschool, child care center, or nursery school and found a basket of toilet paper tubes? How about a bin of old magazines? Maybe even a bucket of small mismatched ceramic tiles? There is a great reason for all of that stuff, plus the other dozen or more recycled materials that teachers collect and treasure for use in art projects with children of all ages.

Art materials can be expensive to purchase, which seems silly because not only can nearly anything be used to make lovely art, but most of it is free when it comes from the things that other people discard. Reuse of materials teaches children resourcefulness and conservation when they see that paper towel tubes, popsicle sticks, or empty tissue boxes can be turned into whatever their imaginations can envision. Doing double duty, recycled items both save the school or center lots of money (thereby lowering tuition costs), and save the items from needlessly filling our landfills or offshore dumping.

Don’t worry, teachers aren’t using items that could be hazardous. Egg cartons are definitely first checked over for traces of yolks that could make kids sick, and the yogurt and oatmeal tubs have certainly been well cleaned before being put to use. No tin cans with sharp edges, no dirty plastic spoons, no dubious empty drink containers. Teachers are both clean and smart!

Involved parents can be proactive and helpful by asking teachers what items from the home recycling bin could be used in class, and perhaps begin a school-wide collection for those items. Many commonly used items in art projects include:

  • Magazines for collage and paper structures (make sure they’re appropriate!)
  • Paper towel, toilet paper, and wrapping paper tubes
  • Small scraps of wood leftover from cut 2×4’s etc, free of nails and staples
  • Bits and bobs of ribbon, fabric, yarn, and large buttons (small buttons are choking hazards)
  • Sponges, pool noodles, old rubber stamps, floral wire and floral foam blocks
  • Leftover scrapbooking notions, wall paper, wrapping paper, paint swatch cards, etc
  • Empty thread spools, clothespins, egg cartons and popsicle sticks

Not all of these materials are used in the art itself, some of it is used as tools to make the art. The towel tubes can be folded to make a heart shaped end to use for stamping tempera paint hearts. Sponges can be used to apply paint or to keep paint brushes moist while working. The pool noodle can be sliced to allow children to roll a wheel dipped in paint across the paper. Many simple household items can also be used as painting tools, even toy cars, small rubber balls, and plastic building (Lego) bricks.

Have children to fill a collection bag of items whenever the paper towels run out or there is only a few inches of ribbon left on the spool, and allow them to take it to school to share with their class. The message of re-using to save the planet will make them look for items all over the house to bring in and use. Just be sure to check for sharp edges or splinters, and that any re-used food containers are thoroughly rinsed clean before donating!

Prime Time Early Learning Centers embrace recycled art materials as part of our environmental education and awareness programs. Prime Time operates six family owned child care centers with summer camp and after school programs serving families in Hoboken, East Rutherford, Rutherford and Carlstadt New Jersey, as well as families with young children in Paramus, Oradell and Ridgewood New Jersey. If innovative programs such as reused and recycled art material projects appeals to your family’s values, please reach out to your nearest Prime Time Early Learning Center to see how we can serve your child care needs.