Classroom Ideas for Upcycling Holiday Leftovers

As teachers de-decorate from the holidays and/or hit the big end-of-season sales, this collection of upcycling and repurposing ideas will have classrooms merry and bright all year long!

The flurry of the holidays can also involve a flurry of tossing and recycling when it comes to restoring our homes to their everyday festive décor. Before all the baubles and bows get tossed in a black garbage bag or relegated to the bin where they typically spend 11 or 10 or 9 months of the year (No one is judging the extent of someone’s holiday spirit here!), it’s time to look at these items from a year-round possibility angle. With a little upcycling and/or repurposing, these ideas can make classroom or home learning spaces and activities really pop on any occasion! Whether it’s pulling out a discard or purchasing a traditionally holiday item at a season’s end discount, these upcycle/repurpose ideas for all of that holiday excess will have teachers and students falala-ing even when it ‘tisn’t the season to be jolly!

Holiday Lights — Just as lights can define the lines of a home’s exterior, they can also define learning spaces within the classroom. Adding a string or two to a reading nook, doorway, center area, or any other space can add some interest and ambiance any day of the year. Strands of lights can also be used for a simple DIY project to create an inexpensive light table; some retailers do seasonal markdowns on the overabundance of bins that still remain after the hustle and bustle season. While these tables are often associated with younger learners and sensory play, they also make a great backdrop for a host of science and art possibilities.

Wrapping Paper Tubes — While the first inclination may be a Jedi re-enactment, cardboard tubes can actually be used for a wide variety of STEM activities and/or art projects. Students can construct intricate roller coasters or marble runs on their own or in teams. With some magnetic tape added to the tubing, these challenges can transform any magnetized surface in the classroom into a STEM wonder. DIY rainstick instruments can add some soothing sounds and creativity to the mix. The tubes are also a great addition to a prop bin for school-wide productions or more impromptu classroom tableaus.

Tins & Mugs — Before an over-abundance of mugs make their way to the re-gifting bin or a holiday tin sans its edible delights hits the curb for recycling pick-up, think about the organizing potential of these sturdy containers. Tins are a great way to store a variety of art supplies, game pieces, and/or anything small and easily scattered. Mugs make perfect holders for a host of writing utensils. With a little paint or some lively duct taping, these receptacles can be transformed from the holiday spirit to just about any theme or palette imaginable.

Tissue & Wrapping Paper — Isn’t it engaging to find books that use mixed media art forms? Favorite authors like Eric Carle and Leo Lionni come to mind, and their unique illustrative techniques make for great discussion and replication possibilities. There’s no need to line the recycle bin with leftover tissue paper and tattered wrapping scraps. Un-crinkle those wadded balls and build a stack of collage and decoupage materials that can be used throughout the year.

Artificial Trees — While typically touted as a Christmas tree, an artificial tree doesn’t have to be exclusive to the season. A smaller tree that may have seen its last days in a living room can become a thematic display piece in any classroom. For those that love a little holiday spirit all year long or those that just love a unique display idea, a tree could become a great addition to the learning space. Students could decorate ornaments for these thematic displays with images on one side and short informational pieces on the other. Trees could be used to display outstanding student work or become an author’s tree, element tree, theorem tree, etc. Trees could also be used as yearlong giving trees where extra school or personal supplies could be added and borrowed as needed.

The yuletide spirit doesn’t have to be exclusive to any particular month on the calendar. With a little ingenuity, holiday accessories can give the gift of enjoyment every month of the year. An after Christmas shopping trip or a raid on the recycle bin will have students and teachers merry and bright during any season.