Earth Day is a wonderful opportunity to teach children about caring for our planet and how to live sustainably. Most children are receptive to these concepts and are looking for ways to help. Teaching children to be resourceful by upcycling waste for art projects, gifts, and toys is a great way to start.
Using a variety of materials helps engage children in these fun projects. Some of these activities are designed to get children excited about outdoor exploration, so they can experience the wonders of nature firsthand. Having a special activity or project can be a great way to engage children in exploring nearby outdoor areas.
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Earth Day Art
The following seven art projects are sure to engage and educate your little ones on what Earth Day is all about.
1. Recycled Cork Boats
This toy is a great way to get kids out playing in forest creeks and lagoons, especially when water levels are high from spring rains. Attach a string to the boat if you think it might float away, and dress children in rain pants and boots if it is muddy or wet.
- 3 pieces of cork
- A toothpick
- Hot glue gun
- Scrap paper
- Paint (optional)
- String (optional)
- Use the hot glue gun to attach the pieces of cork together along their long side.
- Cut the scrap paper into a triangle to make the sail.
- Slide the toothpick through the top and bottom corner of the paper triangle, then push the toothpick into the center cork.
- Attach a string if using the boat in a place where it could float away.
- Find some water, set sail, and enjoy Mother Nature.
2. Homemade Paper
A great way to repurpose old paper is to make new paper. Kids especially like the texture of the paper batter in their hands. Collecting and pressing leaves and flowers can also be a fun nature-based activity leading up to making the paper.
- Picture frame
- Screen (about the same size or slightly larger than the frame)
- Used paper that can be recycled into new paper
- Decorations, such as tissue paper, stickers, dried flowers, dried leaves, food coloring
- Tub or dish
- Sponge or towel
- Search the recycling bin for paper. Most paper works well, including envelopes, copy paper, and newspaper. Start by tearing the paper into long strips to make the paper batter.
- Put the torn paper into the blender with enough water for it to blend, and let the paper sit to absorb the water for at least 15 minutes. If you want colored paper, add food coloring to the mixture and blend until there are no longer big pieces left. Mix in dried flowers and other decorations if desired, either blending them or leaving them intact. The decorations are more visible when placed on top of the paper and then worked in slightly so they don’t fall off after the paper dries.
- Spread the paper mixture onto the screen. If you do not have a frame and screen, substitute a metal hanger bent into a rectangle and pull a pair of old pantyhose across it. Place the frame and screen on a tray, basin, or dish to catch the water that will appear under the frame. Spread out the paper mixture, forming a thin, yet even, layer.
- Let the mixture sit on the screen for a minute, allowing water to drain into the pan below. Next, dab with a sponge to remove excess moisture.
- Flip the creation so the paper is face down on a piece of cardboard and add additional decorations (flowers, tissue paper, etc.). Then let the paper dry, perhaps flipping it after several hours. If the mixture is too wet to dry quickly, put it on a cookie sheet (with no cardboard) and place it in the oven on a low setting for a couple of minutes. Of course, exercise care with this, as it can be a fire hazard to leave the paper mixture in the oven for more than a couple of minutes, especially on a high temperature.
3. Egg Carton Flower Garlands
Children will enjoy making these beautiful creations from egg cartons in honor of Earth Day. You can hang the completed garlands to decorate walls, doors, and windows.
- Egg cartons
- Paint and a brush
- Cut each egg cup into a flower with petals.
- Paint the flowers, either a variety of colors or all one color.
- Cut a small hole in each egg cup, using a hole punch or scissors.
- Lace the string through each hole, tying a knot to keep each “flower” spaced apart.
4. Earthen Pictures and Sculptures
This is a wonderful way to honor Earth Day and engage children in creativity outdoors. It is best to go to a place with lots of earthen materials, such as a beach or forested area. Some parks may work as well.
- Various found objects from nature
- Go to the park, woods, a field, the beach, or any area with interesting materials to gather.
Note: Make sure your children understand that they should not pick flowers, uproot plants, or disturb wildlife.
- Create a natural art project with kids using earthen materials, such as pebbles, branches, fallen flowers, dirt, grass, leaves, seashells, or seeds. Refer to Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature for inspiration. Some kids will be more excited to have a specific project in mind, such as making fairy houses or leaf boats.
5. Rainbow Mobile
This colorful decoration looks wonderful hanging near a window so light can shine through it.
- Cut out a rainbow arc, two clouds, and a handful of raindrop-shaped pieces from the milk jugs.
- Paint one side of the shapes, allow to dry, then paint the other side.
- Cut the string so the pieces have a bit of space between them. Tape the string on the back of the pieces at the designated lengths.
6. Upcycled Toilet Paper Roll Butterflies
- Toilet paper rolls
- Paint and paint brushes
- Three twigs (a longer one and two thin ones to make antennas)
- Cut the toilet paper rolls into four equal pieces. Bend the pieces so they form a pointed oval shape.
- Paint the pieces (on both the inside and outside) and possibly the twigs.
- Once the paint has dried, glue the wings together using the larger twig in the middle. Then glue the small antennas onto the main twig at an angle.
7. Water Bottle Pontoon Boats
- 2 empty 12- or 16-ounce water bottles with caps on (larger bottles can be used for a large boat)
- Colorful duct tape
- String (optional)
- Cut the cardboard into a rectangular shape, forming a platform across the two water bottles that extends beyond the edges of each bottle.
- Cover the cardboard with duct tape.
- Tape the water bottles together so they are side by side.
- Cut out a triangle for a sail and cover it with duct tape.
- Tape the triangle to the platform so it is sticking up like a sail.
- Find water for sailing your boat, perhaps at a local stream, lagoon or even a bathtub. Attach a string if you are concerned about the boat floating away, and set sail.
And there you have it, art projects that repurpose with a purpose — Earth Day!
Feature image credit: Nata Sdobnikova / Shutterstock
Editor’s note: Originally published on April 21, 2016, this article was updated in April 2019.