Kids see creative potential in the funniest things. Be it paper bags, water-bottle caps, Styrofoam peanuts . . . . They love to take items we might call junk and magically turn them into wondrous works of art or tools or toys. These activities let you join in the magic; plus they provide a natural way to teach your child about recycling while having a great time together. Finally, inventing new uses out of old materials is an excellent way to practice math, creative thinking, and problem-solving skills.
Make puppets with small paper bags. Flip the bag upside down, decorate, and you're done. For embellishments, try gluing on candy wrappers, bottle caps, and other "throw-away" items. Or you can make a family puppet by attaching a photo of an aunt, Grandpa, or even yourself.
Create large, lightweight blocks by stuffing paper grocery bags with plastic shopping bags. Seal each shut by taping a piece of cardboard over the paper bag's opening. Build a castle or a fort.
Play a mathematical estimation game with plastic shopping bags. Take one and invite your child to "guesstimate" how many others he can squeeze into it. You both may be surprised by the answer.
Styrofoam in the Home
Build a sculpture using a big Styrofoam piece (the kind for packaging large electronics) as the base. Your child can stick toothpicks into it and attach smaller foam pieces to the other end of each toothpick.
Make necklaces and bracelets by stringing packing peanuts on yarn or string with a blunt yarn needle. Then paint each "bead" with nontoxic tempera paint mixed with a small amount of dish detergent (this allows the paint to stick).
Carve a design into a foam tray (from produce packaging) with a wooden skewer. Brush nontoxic tempera paint over the design, place a piece of paper on top, and rub over the design with a spoon. You'll have a print that resembles a woodcut.
Get a kid's-eye view by inviting your child to brainstorm different ways she can use food containers (from yogurt, nuts, etc.) once they're empty. She may tell you they can be stacked as building blocks, decorated as treasure boxes, or turned into drums.
Sort and classify recyclable objects based on size, color, or shape into empty containers. It's a great math game.
Clean empty containers (and their lids) so your child can use them to carry snacks or her lunch to school. Together, decorate the containers with stickers. Ask your child to help you figure out which foods fit best in each.