A zebra made out of stuff you would find in the recycling box.

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STEM Challenge With Recyclables

Apr 19, 2017

My kids love to play with some of the most ordinary objects. Seriously, just ask my parents about the time my kids spent over an hour playing a game of bowling with a bulk pack of paper towel rolls...

So I often like to dig through our recycling bin to give the kids something different to play with and to challenge them to build, explore, and create on their own.

This STEM challenge with recyclables expands further on the building with loose parts by giving them a challenge to build something specific. However, no glue or tape was allowed during this challenge! That was my only rule.

Recycling supplies include toilet paper rolls, kleenex box and cardboard.

Feel free to rummage through your own recycling bin and collect materials that you think your children would enjoy, but here's what we used for our STEM challenge:

  • plastic applesauce containers, individual serving sized
  • plastic yogurt containers, individual serving sized
  • toilet paper tubes
  • empty duct tape roll tubes
  • bread tags
  • Kleenex box
  • cardboard box cut into rectangles of various sizes
  • clear berry container

You can see it's a rather bland collection of materials, with the exception of the zebra Kleenex box. Totally blah, right?

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However, I posed a series of questions to my five year old son, K, to challenge him to use the materials to build specific structures. Remember, no glue or tape were allowed! Here are some prompts that I gave him:

  • build a bridge
  • build some kind of building or house
  • build a vehicle
  • build an animal
  • build something to sit on
  • build a piece of furniture
  • build a monster
  • build a board game

You can come up with your own prompts based on the recyclables that you supply your children with, but you can see that K was able to build a bridge:

Cardboard bridge built using cardboard and toilet paper rolls.

A tall, skinny house.

Cardboard house made of Kleenex box and cardboard.

A train with wheels that actually roll.

Train made of Kleenex box, yogourt containers, toilet paper rolls and tape rolls.

And since we had a zebra-themed Kleenex box, K made a zebra for the animal challenge.

Then when the kids are done playing, simply toss the materials back into your recycling bin.

Article Author Dyan Robson
Dyan Robson

Read more from Dyan here.

Married to her high school sweetheart, Dyan is mom to two boys, J and K, who also teaches piano out of her home. On her blog And Next Comes L, Dyan shares her story of raising a child with hyperlexia, hypernumeracy and autism, amongst a variety of sensory activities for kids. You can find out more about their story on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.