Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reuse and Sort!

If you're one of the many teachers and parents who can't stand to throw away a cardboard box, a paper towel tube, a jar or any other useful doo-dad, because you just know you'll need it someday for project time; here are a few new ideas to help you put your collection to good use.

It's time to reuse and sort!
Why? Well, the "reuse" part is obvious. Every day is Earth Day! And sorting is an important skill for young children. As they learn to recognize and classify items into groups, they learn to see items in sets, which is an essential beginning math skill. Learning to sort helps kids develop logic and analytical thinking skills, not to mention the fact that it's just a practical life skill.

Box Sorter:
  1. Collect tiny boxes. I started with some particularly solid boxes of the same size and shape as a base. I think this helped the whole structure say upright. This is only important if you plan to stand the structure upright like a shadow box.
  2. Trim boxes so they are all approximately the same depth.
  3. Attach boxes in any fun arrangement using masking tape or duct tape. I also wrapped duct tape around the entire outside edge.
  4. Decide what you want to sort, and decorate or label the inside of your boxes. With 26 boxes, you could make a section for each letter of the alphabet, or you could do sections for each number, color or any other sorting characteristics. (In my example above, I used paper cut to fit the inside of the boxes, and I secured loosely with tape so I could change the labels to sort something else later.)
  5. Have kids go on a hunt to find tiny items to fit in each category. Discuss and display for a while, then sort a new way! We sorted Lego pieces that started with each alphabet letter.

Jar Sorters:
We've also used baby food jars for the same kind of sorting activity. We labeled each one with a different letter of the alphabet, and collected items to go in each jar. You could obviously use jars of any size, but my kids enjoyed the challenge of finding TINY little items to fit in the tiny jars. Again, I labeled with removable stickers so it would be easy to change the sorting categories.

Here are some ways to sorting: (Really, the possibilities are endless!)
  • Alphabet letters
  • Numbers
  • Textures
  • Colors
  • Shapes

Word Rollers:

 If your kids are a little older, and starting to read and learn spelling rules, you might also like to try Word Rollers. This activity is a great way to use up old paper towel rolls, and practice combining letters to make words. You can make your own, or use my free Word Rollers printable. (Download here.) Just print, attach to tubes, cut and you're ready to roll. This printable includes color words, CVC and CVCe words, plus a blank template to customize with words of your choice.

If you'd like more ideas for using the Box Sorters for playtime, visit my blog, to read about our Toy Apartments!

Ok, go gather your materials. Oh, that's right. They're already stashed in your garage, closets and cupboards!  :)


  1. I've started saving tp tubes and various empty containers. I just know I will need then one day for a preschool project or storage of lil things...hubby calls me a mini horder....I just remind him I could throw it all away but then I'd have to go spend money to buy everything I need when a great project idea comes up and I can't raid my stash for supplies ;-) Thanks for sharing the ideas for using up some of my stuffs

  2. My husband doesn't particularly love my collection either. :) Some of that stuff is just too good to throw away though! Thanks for the comment!

  3. What great ideas for creating attractive learning materials from recyclables, Erin! I love your creativity in designing such inviting materials! I pinned your post to the collaborative Alphabet Fun board at

  4. Deb, You are so sweet! Thank for the lovely comment and the pin.


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