For the Classroom

By now, you are probably starting to understand that reusing is all about creativity. The ability to reuse something is only limited by the imagination. The more reuse projects you promote with your students, the more they'll begin identifying ways to reuse outside of the classroom. They'll begin seeing the second life in everything.


Everyone has lovely holiday and birthday cards they hate to throw away. At the beginning of the year, send out an alert for parents to save their old holiday and birthday cards. Create postcards by cutting off the side with the picture (if there's no writing on the back) and using the blank side to create a postcard-like writing area and address area. Sell them at a reuse sale at your school or other community gatherings. When you send postcards, you don't have to use envelopes. This saves paper and energy costs!

Another good reuse project for older kids who can handle scissors and an iron safely is creating a reusable fabric gift bag. Ask parents for scrap material donations for your classroom. Each child should cut out two 12″ by 12″ pieces. (Preferably, use borrowed pinking sheers from parents.) You can precut the square patterns out of cereal boxes to make it easier for the kids, or challenge their measuring abilities by having them draw it on the fabric themselves. Instead of sewing together the pieces, use glue tape or fusible webbing to iron the seams together (both are available at craft or fabric stores). Iron three sides together. On the open side, punch holes to weave in one long piece of yarn. Pull the two ends of the yarn together around the gift and create a nice bow. This can be reused over and over again.

The School and Community Reuse Action Project ( collects reusable materials from businesses and distributes them to local schools. It protects the environment, provides valuable resources to schools, and inspires creative reuse of a wide variety of materials. While it is only a local organization, its website is sure to motivate you to find new opportunities for reuse.

Notebooks out of Cereal Boxes

Have your students bring in empty cereal boxes from home. Collect paper that has only been used on one side from classrooms and staff offices. Pile the paper so that all the sheets are facing the same direction, blank-sides up. Cut the cereal box so that it is about one-half inch longer and onehalf inch wider than the paper. Use a three-hole punch on all of the pieces. Lay the cereal box pieces picture-side out in line with the stack of paper. Use metal rings from a craft store or even strong yarn or twine to bind all of the pieces together. You can make alterations to this project by using small cereal boxes and cutting the paper smaller. You can use old album covers or any type of food packaging that is a stiff cardboard or card stock. These notebooks make good sketch pads to take on hikes for drawing pictures of the wonders of nature.

If you have magazines that need organizing in the classroom or library, simply cut off the top of the cereal box with an angle down the side (a la the magazine organizers you buy at the store). Voilà! Organized.

Swap It

Children are natural swappers. Ride a school bus or visit a playground and you'll see them trading candy for bouncy balls or other small treasures. Ask your students if they've ever done this and have them share with the class what they traded. Then, announce that you will be having a Swap Meet in your classroom (send a letter home to parents, too). Have your students bring in items from home that they no longer want, like books and toys. Check all items for cleanliness and appropriateness. Decorate a large box for all of the items.

When students do well on tests and homework assignments, reward them by allowing them to select something from the swap box. Remind parents throughout the year that gently used toys and books are always welcome donations for the classroom swap box.

You may want to make your swap box donations anonymous or trade with another classroom. You don't want children feeling bad if they have nothing to offer. Likewise, you don't want children to feel awkward for wanting a classmate's old toy. You never know how kids will respond, so make sure it's a respectful process.

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