Four Projects for Preschoolers: Recycle Packing Peanuts to Create Art

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Making use of Styrofoam packing materials is very eco-friendly. By recycling them you'll keep them out of the landfill, and you have a thrifty art material to use in the classroom. I've seen a variety of shapes from circles to squares, S-shapes to figure 8s and even stars. Read on for directions to several preschool projects you can do with leftover Styrofoam.

Eco-Friendly Wreaths

Wreaths are used for all kinds of festive occasions and making them helps the children practice their fine motor skills. Recycle packing pieces when creating this miniature wreath. Have the children start with a long pipe cleaner and a variety of packing shapes. One-by-one, thread the pieces onto the pipe cleaner until it is almost completely covered. Twist the end pieces of the pipe cleaner together to making a hanging loop. Embellish the wreath with a variety of artistic mediums, for example a student could glue on sequins or faux jewels randomly on the wreath. Adorn it with a small bow as well.

Foam Skeletons or People

S-shape packing pieces are perfect to create skeletons or people. On construction paper use an S-shaped piece to construct the body, then add two other pieces for arms and then two for legs. Finish the body with a circular packing piece as the head. These creations can be used to create a night-time picture with ghosts flying in the air on a sheet of black construction paper–great idea for Halloween–or use these bodies as people walking along a city scene that the child has drawn on paper.

Packing Pieces Give Dimension

Use packing pieces in a variety of ways to show dimension. First for preschoolers learning their numbers, tactile displays are fun and educational. On pieces of cardboard, draw a large number with an inside center and cut these out. Have the children glue packing pieces inside the number, the same amount as the number value. After it's dry, children can run their fingers along the shape of this number and begin counting skills by counting the pieces. Start with numbers 1-10 and increase numerals according to age and skill level.

Use packing pieces to add dimension to any art projects. For example, if you have given the children a picture of a sheep, they can glue on packing pieces to replicate the curly wool on its body. A snowman can become 3-D by gluing on packing peanuts on each circular shape. A star shape is more fun to decorate when it has dimension than just coloring the page. Glue on packing pieces and the children will enjoy making this twinkling star.

Also use packing pieces to bring out a shape in a picture. For example, if you want to make a picture of kites flying in the sky follow these tips. Invite the children to draw a sky picture, including the clouds and sun. Cut kite shapes from construction paper and glue on one packing piece to the back of the shape. Now, glue this kite to the drawing with the packing piece sandwiched between. Voila, the kite is 3-D and looks like it is projecting from the drawing.

Cornstarch Peanut Creations

In the 1990s packing materials shifted to a more natural approach becoming a more environmentally alternative to the polystyrene-based products. Biodegradable packing peanuts made from cornstarch can be used to create interesting sculptures. If you wet one end of each piece with a damp sponge, the moisture allows the pieces to stick together. Children can get creative making houses, animals, robots, fences, and toys. Allow around 15 minutes for the creations to dry completely and then they can be colored with colorful markers. If you are not lucky enough to have received cornstarch peanuts in your last package, these biodegradable materials can be purchased at toy and craft stores under the product name "Stikits." These cornstarch peanuts come in boxes of 1,000 pieces, are already colored and are ready for the building process.

The Bottom Line…

Next time you're about to toss packing peanuts in the trash, think twice. These humble items can be the perfect material to create many wonderful crafts. Ask the parents to save these materials for you to add to your art bin. Someone's junk can be another's person's treasure and in this case – a new art material to explore!


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Projects are from personal experience in the classroom.