Home Connections: Cardboard Box Creations

by Melissa Harding

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In honor of Earth Day, April’s Home Connections will detail how our department uses recycled materials to enhance our programming and teach sustainability.

When you are eating a bowl of cereal, do you ever think about where the packaging goes? The cereal goes in your stomach, but the bag and box it comes in are often thrown away or recycled. At Phipps, we try to take conservation one step further and reuse items before they are thrown into the recycle bin. In many of our programs, students make crafts from these reused materials and quite a few of our activities use upcycled props; we think of old jars and plastic bottles as resources ready for creative use. Reusing materials not only saves resources and money, but it is a great way to teach by example. Giving everyday objects a second life used to be standard practice; in times past, storing nails in old jars and recipes in shoe boxes was not uncommon. We want all of our students to understand that their resource use has consequences and that they can reduce their waste and consumption by using a little bit of creativity and elbow grease.

One of our favorite materials to repurpose into other items is cardboard. Cardboard is sturdy when it is painted on and is still useful even after someone has spilled water on it, it won’t bend when campers glue plants to it and the brown color looks very natural. We reuse cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes; the possibilities for a cardboard box are almost endless. The inside is a blank slate just waiting to be colored, painted and glued.  Here are a few ideas to get your own creative juices flowing:

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Journals
Nature journaling is a great way to teach observation skills and connect children to nature. Our campers use journals to record plants and animals that they have seen around the Conservatory, to draw pictures out of books and to complete activities. Most of our camps involve some amount of journaling. Purchasing journals or notebooks for each of these programs would be both wasteful and expensive; campers usually only write on 10-20 pages, so an entire journal would not be effectively used. By making our own journals, we are able to tailor them to our camps by adding just the right number of pages and specific activity sheets. The cardboard cover is sturdy enough to be carried around all week. If a camper loses their journal or takes it home, it is very easy to get them a new one. In short, our cardboard journals are great!

To make a journal, you will need: two pieces of cardboard cut to roughly the same size,  similarly sized paper (we use paper headed for the recycle bin that has already been printed on one side), yarn or string, scissors and a hole punch. First punch a matching set of holes in the top or side of both your cardboard pieces, as well as your paper. Create a sandwich of cardboard, paper inserts and cardboard, then string your yarn through the holes to bind it all together. Tie a knot at each end and you have a journal!

This simple method is good for a week’s worth of use, but for a more hardy journal it is helpful to enforce the edges of the cardboard and the string with duct tape or another sturdy material.

Phipps Science Education_Nature Weaving (4)

Looms and Picture Frames
When we explore the Conservatory and gardens with our campers, we like to encourage them to find “treasures” for use in their art projects. They use their observation skills to find objects that they think are special; examples include sticks, acorns, dead flowers and pine needles. Two of the most common projects that we make with treasures are nature weavings and picture frames. Cardboard boxes provide excellent looms and frames.

To make frames, you will need: square boxes (such as granola bar boxes), scissors, magnet strip or pieces, hot glue. First, cut out the front and back pieces to make two separate frames. Next, cut a small rectangle out of the middle of both pieces to create a frame shape using a 4×6″ template and glue pieces of magnet to the backs so that they can be stuck to the fridge (one additional matter of reusing: we cut old refrigerator magnets into smaller pieces and hot glue them on the back rather than buying rolls of magnet). Lastly, glue in your picture before decorating.

To make looms, you will need:  a piece of cardboard, twine or yarn, scissors, craft glue.  First, cut your cereal box just a little larger than the size of the weaving you want to make. Cut a row of slits in the top and bottom ends, making each slit one-fourth to one-half inch apart. Tie a knot in your string, slip the knot into one of the slits to anchor it, then run the string to the slit on the opposite side. Slip the string behind the cardboard to the next slit on the same side, bring it through, then run it across the board again. Keep going until the whole piece of cardboard is strung like a guitar.

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Nature Viewers
Photography is a great way to get students to learn to focus their gaze and observe the world around them. However, it is not always possible or practical to use actual cameras with students. One way that we can teach the same skills without a camera is by using nature viewers. They are essentially a “lens” that kids can look through; it narrows their gaze and helps them to see things more closely. Campers take mental “pictures” which they later journal about or discuss with the group. Some education supply stores sell plastic versions of these, but we can make our own for free and let the kids take them home to practice – everyone wins!

To make nature viewers, you will need: a cardboard box, 2×2″ and 1×1.5″ templates (we use sticky notes, both a regular size and a smaller, rectangular size), pencil, scissors. First, trace your template as many times as you can on your box and then cut out all of your squares. Next, trace your smaller template in the middle of your squares and cut them out as well. Last, take one of your viewers outside and try it out; they are really fun.

Miscellaneous
We use cardboard boxes for many miscellaneous jobs as well.  They are the base for our nametags, hats, crowns and photo props. They also make great blank canvases for projects that involve any sort of glueing or painting and will work in place of paper when we are in a pinch. We have bags of pre-cut cardboard at the ready for last-minute ideas and whipping up new program props. In the home, cardboard is useful for creating holiday cards and gift tags, labels, and lining shelves and drawers. A cardboard box can even just be left as a box and used for storage; cover your box in wrapping paper or newspaper to make it more attractive.

Simply put, a cardboard box has unlimited potential.

Hopefully some of these fun ideas are getting you to think about ways to repurpose the cardboard in your own home. Once you start thinking of the items in your recycle bin as resources instead of trash, anything is possible!

For more ideas, check out What Can You Make with a Cardboard Box at the Crafty Crow.

Join us next week to learn how we use plastic containers to create fun crafts and useful containers!

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry and Amanda Joy.

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