Classroom Activity
Recycled Big Blocks
Boxes become blocks in no time as children design and paint their homemade creations.

AGES 2–3


  • one large box for storing items
  • recycled boxes, canisters, and containers, including large food boxes (cereal, crackers, cookies, cake mix), milk cartons, diaper boxes, wipe containers, shoeboxes, gift boxes, canisters (oatmeal, coffee), and large yogurt or cottage cheese containers
  • masking tape
  • newspaper
  • brown butcher paper
  • tempera paint (two to three colors) and paintbrushes
  • smocks
  • camera and film

Objective: Children will build with large recycled boxes and containers to enhance their creative, language, math, social, and large-motor development.

In Advance: Send a note home to families requesting donations of the suggested recycled boxes, canisters, containers, and newspapers. Store the recycled materials in the large cardboard box.


  1. Prepare the donated items for children. Lightweight boxes can be filled with newspaper and closed with masking tape. Use masking tape to close canisters, cartons, and box lids. Cover some of the recycled items with brown paper for children to paint.
  2. Prepare a table area with painting materials. Invite a small group of children to choose an item to paint. Engage children in conversation as they design their blocks. Encourage them to identify colors and learn the names of the shapes that they are painting. When they are finished, place the recycled blocks in the block area.
  3. Invite small groups of children to the block area to build with the recycled blocks. Provide them with props and materials to incorporate in their play schemes (dolls, cars, fabric, animals, and so on). Young children enjoy carrying, filling, and pushing blocks around.
  4. Photograph the processes children are engaging in as they make, then build with, their recycled blocks, as well as their completed work.

Remember: Children will need adequate space when working with larger building materials. If indoor space is limited, it is best to have no more than two to three children building at one time.

Curriculum Connection

Literacy: Our Big Block Book. Using the photos you have taken, create a class book documenting the different ways children use the recycled blocks. Glue children's photographs onto sheets of paper and invite children to dictate information about their photographs. Bind the pages together and create a cover and title for the book. Place the book in the class library area or block area.

Changes, Changes*
by Pat Hutchins
(Scholastic Inc.; $3.50)

Machines at Work
by Byron Barton
(HarperCollins Children's Books, 1997; $6.95)

Tonka, Building the Skyscraper
by Justine Korman-Fontes
(Cartwheel, 1999; $3.50)