All the STEM Treasures Lurking in Your Recycling Bin

by ParentCo. March 21, 2023

boy with a cardboard box over his head

My kids don’t look at toilet paper rolls, old markers, or cardboard boxes and see trash. They instantly envision ways to be creative – to make a world of their own out of any object they might have on hand. This sort of imaginative play is good for kids. It’s also an environmentally sound approach as reusing is more earth-friendly than buying new items. Lately, I’ve wondered if there’s a way to help amp up some of their creations, adding elements of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). It turns out others have wondered the same thing. Some companies even cater to the parents of kids who like to turn recycling bin items into imaginative treasures. Whether kids are into fashion, robots, or art, mixing STEM with some recyclable cast-offs will keep kids engaged in learning.

A cardboard box is never just a box


some of the steps it takes to make this Cardboard Analog TV Amazon shipments equal glee in my home, and usually not because of what’s inside. Giant shipping boxes offer my kids the best toys in the world. There are plenty of ways to capitalize on cardboard to make it STEM-worthy. The creators of the Pinbox 3000 saw the potential of the cardboard box as both a learning tool and a game when they created a way to build working pinball machines from cardboard boxes. Parents can order the kits and let their kids get artistically creative while still having to accomplish the goal of making the machine work. Circuit Cubes from Tenka Labs are electronic building blocks that enable kids to turn a plain cardboard box into a variety of creations. Would they be psyched to make their own analog TV, featuring their own image on the screen? Kids will flex their artistic muscles while also needing to follow directions to make sure the TV works properly. Or they might choose to transform a cardboard box into a light saber or a telescope with the Circuit Cubes Bright Lights Kit.


Feeling less guilty about toilet paper

The average American family produces a mass of trash equivalent to the weight of an elephant in one year. Individuals use about 30 toilet paper rolls a year, meaning my family of six goes through 180 in a 12 month period. These small cylinders are perfect for art projects, serving as the trunks of homemade trees or pretend kaleidoscopes. They can also be used for STEM projects that challenge children to understand how energy and electricity work. Circuit Cubes Bright Lights Kit can be used to make an emergency flasher that kids can carry around outside at night to make them more visible to cars. For kids ready to advance to a more difficult task, let them try making their own spotlight – a task that Circuit Cubes labels a bit more difficult than the emergency flasher.

Turning trash into treasure

Creating red-carpet style

Angie (@2sisters_angie) pretty much has the market cornered on amazing recycled dress creations. When her daughter showed an interest in fashion, she gave her access to construction paper, tissue paper, and tape to see what would occur. The two worked together to make some pretty impressive garments using nothing more than recyclable materials and imagination. Though Angie’s daughter was only four when they started designing, she played an equal part in creating the dresses. She learned how much paper she needed for each design and how to put them together. Measuring, cutting, and designing have become second nature for this young stylist. To add a STEM-friendly activity for the sibling who may not be into fashion, this spotlight project will enhance any fashion show, allowing both kids to showcase their creations and building abilities.

Legos can do more than hurt feet

If there is one thing we know about Legos it’s that they somehow multiply while we sleep. They also cause tremendous pain when stepped on at 3 a.m. What parents may not know is that Legos can become robots when combined with the proper materials. When kids grow tired of building the same Lego kits over and over, or when they have so many that they can’t possibly use them all, grab some Circuit Cubes and put those old blocks to good use. With a toothbrush, some Legos, and Circuit Cubes, children can spend the day attempting to make a working robot, troubleshooting issues and rearranging the parts to ensure movement. A variety of Circuit Cubes kits even use cast off Legos as part of the design.

Sneaky STEM

Kids automatically enjoy learning skills related to science and mathematics when they can learn kinetically. While sitting down and trying to read about how a robot should work is not that appealing, building a robot can keep kids busy for hours. They also develop skills that will turn them into problem solvers. Throw a handful of recycled items on the table and incorporate some of the above kits to help up your kids’ STEM game. You may discover you have some budding scientists, mathematicians, and engineers on your hands.





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