Four Easy Ways To Recycle Household Materials And Play With Math


Earth Day is just around the corner, which means it’s a great time to find ways to reuse the everyday household items that we normally throw away. Instead of buying expensive math activities made from wood or plastic, you might be surprised to learn that everything you need is lying around your house. It is possible to create enjoyable math explorations for young children simply by thinking outside the box and finding ways to reuse everyday objects.

Before participating in the math activities below, watch “Sesame Street: reuse and make something“with your child.

Sesame Street: reuse and create something new

After watching, explain to your child that you will also be reusing some of the things you have in your home! Here’s how to get started:

Bottle caps, lids and caps

From condiment lids to bottle caps of milk containers, these little plastic and metal parts are ubiquitous in most households. Instead of throwing them away, wash them and find them a container. Once you have a good number (about 20 lids), here are some activities you can do with that will support your child’s mathematical development.

More resources for caregivers and educators

Graphically represent what you notice. Obtain bottle caps, lids, and caps, along with a large piece of paper and coloring supplies. Have your child sort the bottle caps into piles of similar characteristics. For example, color, size, material (plastic or metal), etc. Create a simple graph and label the x-axis with the chosen characteristic (e.g. color, size, material) and the y-axis with a number that makes sense depending on the number of caps, lids, and caps that you have. Use more or less tops depending on your child’s abilities. Place each bottle cap, lid and lid in the corresponding area on the graphic to make the concept concrete for your child. Support curiosity by using mathematical speeches such as:

  • “What do you notice on the caps, lids and bottle caps?” “
  • “What type of top do we have the most?” “
  • “What kind of top do we have the least?
  • “Why do you think we have so many caps of a certain type?” (Eg you can have a lot of blue lids because they are on the milk you drink daily).
  • “Can we represent them graphically in a different way? How? ‘Or’ What?”

Order by size. Have your child order the bottle caps, lids and caps by size. Invite your child to pay close attention to what he notices about the elements by using math discussions such as:

  • “Which top is taller?” How do you know?”
  • “Which top is the smallest?” How do you know?”
  • “If it’s the smallest (point to smaller object) and it’s the biggest (point to larger object) which cover would fit here (point between small and large object)? “
  • “If I wanted to make a little flower with these, which tops would I use?” “
  • “If I wanted to make a big flower with these, which tops would I use?” “

Extend the learning by inviting your child to create ephemeral art with the materials. For example, have your child create a robot using five bottle caps or a wiggling worm using 10 bottle caps.

Cardboard creations

As much as we try to buy locally, it is inevitable that we will have at least a handful of boxes at the end of the month. We also enjoy pizza on Fridays, which means we end up with a surplus of pizza boxes. Fortunately, cardboard can be recycled or reused. We often choose the latter. Our 4 year old has created a variety of creations over the past few months, of a car, airplane, robot costume, bird wings, pizza box easel and even from a dollhouse. The sky’s the limit with cardboard creations, but here are a few ideas for getting a little math into the mix.

Create a house of shapes. Create a space outside or in the kitchen where your child can paint. Place newspaper or an old sheet on the floor before the activity to protect surfaces. Take out paintbrushes, glue, scissors, a variety of cardboard boxes of different sizes (like cereal boxes, shoe boxes, old packing boxes, etc.) and tempera paint. Find scrap paper or colorful construction paper and cut out a variety of shapes in different sizes like stars, hexagons, squares, circles, rectangles, diamonds and more. Involve your child in identifying shapes while helping them cut them out. Verbalize the similarities and differences regarding shape attributes. Use mathematical speeches such as:

  • “What shapes have straight lines?” How many do you see? “
  • “What shapes have sinuous lines? What do you notice when you trace the shape with your finger? “
  • “What shapes do boxes look like? Why?”

Invite your child to choose and paint different boxes to create a house of shapes. Help your child glue the boxes together in different ways to create interesting architecture. After the paint is dry, help your child glue the different shapes onto the boxes. Use mathematical language to help them think about shapes they could use as doors, windows, and decorative patterns. You may ask, “What shape most closely resembles a door?” Why? ”After the shape house is dry, take it to a play area and invite your child to use their imagination and a variety of figurines and toys to play with their house.

Pizza box templates. Open a pizza box and discard the extra crumbs. Then ask your child to paint the inside of the box with the color of their choice. Wait for the pizza box to dry. Next, shape the pizza box like an easel by supporting it and gluing it to the floor so that it is solid. Provide your child with a variety of creative materials such as buttons, stickers, plastic gems, beads, and colorful shapes made from scrap paper and tissue paper. Invite your child to create and glue designs on the pizza box with the materials. Use mathematical language to engage them in critical thinking such as:

  • “If I use a blue button, a red button, and a blue button, what color of button should I use next?” How do you know?”
  • “Can you create a pattern using two different materials? And three ?
  • “How many different patterns can you create with these beads? “

Reusing household materials is a great way to encourage original thinking, reduce waste, and help young children develop basic math skills. What else do you have that can turn into math fun?

Here are some additional resources that can help spark your imagination:


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