Upcycling Projects for Pre-School Children

It is never too early to start teaching your children about the importance of upcycling. And don’t forget – children learn by example. By definition, upcycling means “to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item: to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value)[i]. “ 
And even though it has long been a part of human life, the past few years have seen a revival of the upcycling trend. 

Why is upcycling important?

Firstly, it increases quality and lifetimes of materials and products, reduces wastes, creates employment opportunities, and encourages sustainable consumer behaviour[ii]. Now, these terms might be a bit too much for kids. Telling them that this is a creative way to reduce what goes into landfill, and to help our planet stay healthy should be enough to start with. 
Secondly, it helps kids (and grown-ups) take their creativity to the next level.
So, upcycling is one thing we, and our children, can do to help the environment.
Besides focusing on upcycling projects, it is important that children become aware of some whys and hows. And questioning is a great way to achieve that. (Just in case you’ve missed it, this article focuses on the importance of questioning).
Here are some questions we discussed with our kids, Einstein E and Power P:

-    Where does the rubbish go once it’s been thrown away? 
-    What can happen to a turtle if it sees a plastic bag and thinks it’s a jellyfish? 
-    What happens with plants if a plastic bottle ends up in soil?

RRR = Reduce – Reuse - Recycle 

-    What can we use instead of plastic bags? 
-    What can we make with milk cartons, boxes, toilet paper rolls? 
-    Why is making toys better for nature than buying them? 
-    What can we use to make a car/necklace/picture frame…?
-    Where do we put paper/plastic/metal/glass after we stop using it?

Upcycling projects for kids

Since we often use magazine pages rolls, here you can see how to make them in three easy steps.

1)    Picture frame

Cardboard, rolled magazine pages, some paint, and our photos got a new home. The boys didn’t really care that this picture frame wasn’t the neatest or the most delicate one. They were truly happy with and proud of their work, regardless of little "imperfections".

2)    Cars

This project is super easy. All you need is a toilet paper roll, four milk carton lids, hot glue and some paint. The trickiest part of making this one is to not forget to keep the rolls and lids instead of throwing them away.  

3)    City

Power P and Einstein E came home one day with an idea - they want to make a city.  Because making toys out of cartons, boxes, and toilet paper rolls is something they are familiar with, they came up with most of the ideas for this project. It took us three days to finish it, but the boys enjoyed making it. And they still love playing with it. 

4)    Paper bin.

 This one was for me. I needed a paper bin for my study, and we had some extra rolled magazine pages .  

5)    Tic - Tac - Toe (Noughts and Crosses)

 Logical thinking, fine motor skills and upcycling. This game has it all. 

Noughts and crosses made with milk lids, upcycling

6) DIY snail toys

These cute little snails are a great way to upcycle some old magazines and make a new toy. 

final DIY snail toys

7. Mr Froggy and his friends

Got some extra toilet paper rolls? How about making these cute little DIY toys?

paper roll animals

8. B-day decorations

Some used wrapping paper, old magazines, cardboard, and paint is all you need to make a few decorations for a birthday party.

b-day decorations, reduce-reuse-recycle


[i] Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Upcycle. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved July 3, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/upcycle
[ii] Singh, J., Sung, K., Cooper, T., West, K., Mont, O. (2019). Challenges and opportunities for scaling up upcycling businesses – The case of textile and wood upcycling businesses in the UK, 150, 104439.