Art Tips: Recycle Boxes into Art Panels

Art Tips on Tinkerlab.comWe love art tips. Click here for more tips from this series.

This is a favorite tip for the economical folks in the room: recycle your cardboard boxes and turn them into art panels.

How did this all start? Well, we had a yard sale this past week. Can you hear my sigh of relief? I used to love having yard sales, but since having kids it’s always been easier to take our long-loved belongings directly to the thrift store. My kiddos have been eager to have a sale, however, so that’s what we did. And you know something? Not only did I survive, but we cleared out a walkable path in our garage and I also uncovered my trusty old-fashioned paper chopper that was previously covered with boxes and cushions.

Along with getting reacquainted with my old paper-cutting pal, I uncovered a bunch of cardboard boxes. And with that, I spent a jolly twenty minutes chopping those boxes up into panels that my kids and I can paint, collage, and otherwise attack with our art.

Art tip: Save cardboard pieces for art making | TinkerLab

Cardboard boxes are wonderful for so many reasons. When I have them in the house they often get recycled as…cardboard boxes. I’ll use them again to ship things to friends and loved ones. But when I have a few piled up, I like to chop them into smaller pieces that we can later use as art panels.

Throw that box on the guillotine and create some incredibly enticing art substrates.

Art tip: Save cardboard pieces for art making | TinkerLab

There are a few ways to cut cardboard into panels

  1. Cut the box with heavy duty scissors. Don’t cut yourself. Obvious, I know, but I did this the other day.
  2. Cut panels with a box cutter on a cutting mat
  3. The quickest way is most likely an art-grade chopper like this Guillotine Paper Trimmer.

Art tip: Save cardboard pieces for art making | TinkerLab

And now we’re ready to use these as bases for painting, collage, gluing, etc. Here are some examples:

Art tip: Save cardboard pieces for art making | TinkerLab

Two questions for you

How do you like to recycle or upcycle cardboard? What are your favorite art tips?

More Art Tips:

Clean up (and reuse) your paper scraps

Low-cost Stamps made from Cosmetic Wedges

Set up a “Bits and Pieces Box”

Tips on how to clean up after a creative session

Tips on How to Clean Up After a Creative Session with Kids

I’ve been asking my newsletter friends to share a creative hurdle that they face when it comes to hands-on making and creativity at home or school. One of the questions that comes up time and time again relates to cleaning up after creating. 

Is this a challenge that you face too? If so, you’re definitely not alone!

We all know that mess-making is part of the creative process, but it’s often difficult to reconcile the mess with the real flow of our lives.

How to clean up after a creative session

Today I’m sharing a question from Tinkerlab friend, Danielle. I posted her question to the Tinkerlab Facebook Page, and I’ll share all the responses here because I think that this is a question that a lot of us can relate to.

As one reader (Elizabeth) shared, “Clean up is an ESSENTIAL part of the creative process. Don’t let it slide! Don’t start a project unless there is time for all the steps , including clean up- do something un-messy if you only have a short window.”

Without further ado, here’s Danielle’s question, and the answers follow:

“My biggest hurdle is cleaning up after the creativity – often evidence of our fun lingers for days (or weeks…). This is often because I don’t plan “clean up time” into the schedule. Ooh – we have an hour before (….activity, church, dinner, bedtime/…) who wants to….? Well an hour is really more like 30 mins when I need to get 4 kids out the door & I don’t like to “interrupt” them in the middle of a project so we end up rushing around. Then, I’m reluctant to pull out stuff for another project because I’m weary of how long it will be before it all gets cleaned up.”

Note: Some of these responses have been moderately edited for clarity or grammar.

Clean Up Idea #1: Use Music

Use a piece of music like Flight of the Bumblebee to signal clean up time. Use it every time so they get to know it means stop and tidy up. -Fiona

We sing a tidy up song (simple lyrics follow). So cue, tidy up, move onto next thing.
It is very simple but effective.” when we’ve had a tidy up we’ll sing some songs (or your own activity) , repeat, when we’ve had a tidy up well sing some songs today…pause…when we’ve had a tidy up well sing some songs. x -Geraldine

clean up after art project

Clean Up Idea #2: Involve Children in the Process

Before starting a creative activity, read your child a book like Clean-Up Time (the books in this series are a personal favorite). This will help set expectations for when it’s time to put things away.

As a childcare provider I think it is one of my responsibilities to teach children self-help skills. We have a clean up time before lunch and then at the end of the day with wipes and little brooms. During activities I try to remind them to take what they need and put it away when they are done so they will have room to play and work. -Aurora

Break clean up into five parts and let each child and you do your parts, one child gets all the keeper supplies, one child sweeps, one child wipes the counter down, etc. -Anna

Get a child-size broom and dustpan set so that he or she is empowered to join you with tidying up. Or, for a laugh, check out these awesome Slipper Genies (don’t laugh too hard…they get great reviews!)

How to clean up art supplies | Tinkerlab

Clean Up Idea #3: Organize Your Supplies

We had the same problem…in fact it’s always been a problem with me:) I’m much better at being creative than cleaning. But being a home childcare provider I’ve had to learn to have a special area set up for crafts: where can easily put up the materials: a place for drying work and the beauty of enlisting my kids to clean up:) J put up the glue & crayons, D vaccum, E wipe tables, clean brushes, etc.. We’ve no time for arguing about who did what so it is easier to assign jobs.

Oh also..if you have a special room or area..u can say leave it & leave for church & have the kids finish up the next morning before doing anything else. -Kristen

Use a cookie sheet or tray for projects. When you want to put them up they can be stacked by turning every other one to the side. Then projects can dry or the kids can come back to them. Also, the mess is contained in the washable trays. Also, I use a nail or screw organizer for small stuff. It can be mounted on the wall if you want. All the small clear drawers can be labeled and hold things like scissors, glue sticks, beads, pre-cut yarn, stickers, popsicle sticks, etc. they cost about $20. I have one for art stuff and one for math/science stuff. -Becca

Being organized makes the clean up fast and easy. I have one tote with paper, scissors, glue (basically paper crafts), and then one tote for sewing crafts. -Olivia

Bins or baskets for each type of item. Organized and then it is easy for the kids to see where the things go and help cleaning up. I have one cabinet in our kitchen that is loaded with craft supplies. One tub filled with crayons and markers. One with paints and a large ziplock bag for the brushes and sponges for painting. One small container with glitters, sequin, and ribbons. Another small container with glue bottles, glue sticks and the refills for my hot glue gun (the gun is put up though because i dont want the kiddos plugging it in). They don’t have to be expensive, you can get some pretty decent containers at the dollar store- then if the paint gets spilled on them, its no big deal. I like the stuff in the kitchen because then I do not have the kids carrying glitter from one side of the house to the other. You could also (if you have the room) set up a card table in your garage and make a little “station” with the supplies organized next to it so that you do crafts in the garage. Then if things are left out- nobody sees it when they come into your home and you are not tracking on top of it all the time either. -April

Clean Up Idea #4: Set a Timer

Try doing 10 minute clean ups through out the day like every couple of hours set the timer for ten minutes and get the kids involved. I just started doing this and My oldest son told me he love this idea. -Daisy

organize art materials

Clean Up Idea #5: Set Aside Space for Working Projects

I run a childcare business from my home so I totally understand what you mean. I do two different things small quick surface tidies throughout the day just to ensure there is space to walk around but i also have a small area where half-finished projects can wait until the children go back to them. That way you don’t need to totally clear away every time, and the children can get on with the project without having to ask anyone else, so its more child led. -Kim

Do you want more Clean-Up Ideas?

We love this post with 24 Tips for Cleaning up Art Messes with Children, and this simple tip to keep a clear table.

What’s YOUR Clean Up Tip?

If you have any tips or ideas to share, please add them to the comments at the end of this post so that we can learn from your expertise, insights, and experiences!

Note: This post may contain affiliate links.


Art Tips: The Bits and Pieces Box

Weekly Art Tips on Tinkerlab.comToday’s art tip is brought to us by one of my very favorite creative mom bloggers, Ali Wright. This trick is so easy to put in motion — and the payoff can be big. After reading it I’d bet that you won’t look at scraps of paper quite the same way again. As Ali puts it, this is a” frugal way to supply the kids with interesting, varied and free materials.”

Art Tips: The bits and pieces boxHi, I’m Ali. I am a mom to two arty kids. My kids can go through large quanities of art supplies in a very short space of time. So, I am always on the look out for ways to supplement our art and craft materials without breaking the bank.

I am a big collector. I keep an old shoebox which I fill with all sort of things that I think might appeal to the kids. We call it the bits and pieces box…. and this is what is currently in it –

  • Promotional postcards which I find in cafes and shops
  • Maps and tourist brochures from museums and hotel foyers
  • Clothing tags that are pretty or interesting
  • Theatre programs (I don’t actually get to the theatre I just collect the programs)
  • Old discarded paintings by the kids
  • Wrapping paper and tissue paper
  • Tickets of all sorts – dry cleaning stubs, movie tickets, raffle tickets
  • Art exhibition catalogues
  • Used envelopes with interesting stamps
  • Old greeting cards

Art Tips: The bits and pieces box

This box is kept in sight but out of reach.

I pull it down when the kids ask me or when we are working on an art project that needs some extra materials. When the box comes down from the shelf they get very excited to see the latest additions.

The funny thing about the bits and pieces box is that I can never predict what is going to appeal to my kids. Sometimes they pounce on something I would never expect. I threw in some bank forms last week – they were a big hit.

Art Tips: The bits and pieces box

I don’t throw every piece of paper that comes my way into the bits and pieces box… it would need to be huge if I did that! I am selective: I particularly avoid shopping catalogues.

I look for interesting imagery, quirky uses of text and colour as well as a range of paper types and textures.

My bits and pieces box is a very frugal way to supply the kids with interesting, varied and free materials. The majority of the materials in the box were destined for the recycling bin. This way they are given a second chance at life in the hands of my mini makers.

Ali Wright Ali is a blogger and mother of two kids who adore art and crafts. Making things is a part of everyday life. Ali is also a designer and DIY crafter. She lives with her family in Sydney Australia and shares her creative adventures on her blog At Home with Ali. You can also find her on PinterestFacebookGoogle+ and Instagram.

24 Tips for Cleaning up Art Messes with Children

What are your tried and true strategies for cleaning up art messes with your child?

I presented this question to some friends and the smart crowd on my Facebook page, and they came back with a variety of ideas. Some of these are my own favorites, and a few are new-to-me. My hope is that you’ll find an idea or two in here that will work for you too!

24 tips from real parents for cleaning up art messes with children


Everything has a basket!  – Melissa H.

Clear, Bins and Buckets!!   – Sign & Shine

We have bins and baskets for art supplies so my kids know where to find what they are looking for and where to put things away so the next person can find it. But, I let my kids organize their own toys. I find they have very different organizational reasoning than I do. I was trying to put construction toys together, and play kitchen toys together, etc. But they organize their toys according to what adventures they are planning. Sometimes they put anything long and stick-like together so they can defend the universe and other times they just want to see how much they can fit into one bucket. As long as things are picked up off the floor on occasion, I’m happy. I get the thoughts behind fostering independence and responsibility and all that, but I don’t feel it is my job to impose labels and order on everything. Let the children decide where things belong and why. They will change their reasoning quite frequently. Chaos is part of creativity.  – Karin C.

Labels Labels Labels! Using picture labels on plastic containers helps kids to develop a sense of independence while cleaning up. You could even go so far as to label the container and shelf where the container belongs with a picture of the object-and as the child gets older the name of the object. The more sense their world makes, the more in control they can be! I teach a full class of 4 and 5 year olds and their parents are always amazed at how clean my classroom is and I don’t have to lift a finger!  – Tara K.

Too much order in cleaning up, I believe makes it too complex for the kids to put things away. If you let them put things away in a semi-ordered manner then they are more likely to contribute. For example, 3 bins for Kitchen toys, bins for creativity (coloring, stickers, glues, etc). At least, my experience has been more cooperation with more control to them. – Tina D.

paint on the floor

Have clean-up supplies handy

When doing art I try to clean as we go along and make sure I have everything we need close by and ready to go…. such as if we are painting I always have a wet wash cloth my little guy can use it to wash his hands when we are done so he doesnt have to go all the way to the sink, I also have warm soapy water, and try to clean spills as they happen.  – Chelsea S.

We use materials that can be cleaned up; washable paint, shaving cream, play dough, mud. While the kids are working I keep a damp rag close by for quick spot cleaning. These projects are saved for when Daddy is not home, it’s more fun when he’s not cringing in the background. (And I know there are very few messes that can’t be cleaned up… makes it easier to relax and have fun.)  – Jillian R.

We have a dedicated art space and the table is typically covered in butcher block paper. A lot of our supplies are accessible, but in mason jars with lids. We have a bin of rags in the space and a spray bottle with all-natural cleaner in it. Toddlers love spraying just about anything, even their own messes.  – Melinda L.

Make it Fun

A cleaning song and the ‘Clean before taking something new’ rule (won’t work all the time)  – Gerdien K.

Always change the strategy. If you use a cleaning song, only use it a few times, then try a different technique. Then go back to the ones that worked the best and use them a few more times. Right now, my kids are loving the “How many can you pick up before the timer goes off?!”  – Sharon H.

We have a clean-up song (Feist’s ‘I Feel It All’), so we dance while we clean and pick the furthest part of the mess and work inward. The boy is four, so I give him specific tasks to focus on.  – Rachel K.

Singing. – Projects for Preschoolers

Songs, games, and making sure to do it before moving on to the next big activity or location so it doesn’t pile up (plus they’re more motivated). Also give them tasks you won’t micromanage.  – Corinne S.

easel painting indoors

Break it up into steps or jobs

We do it in steps. He’s still small so I tell him “time to put the puzzle away”, then we do that together. “Time to put the train set away” and we do that together…. Then he gets the idea that even big tasks are manageable if you do them in steps.  – Christine W.

Divide and conquer. Each child is given one assignment at a time (m picks up all the books, J puts the dolls away, etc.) After finishing that job they get a second if necessary. I jump in to get items that are awkward and we get done quickly.  – Friday Frogs

Get the hubby to do it. 🙂  – Kara P.

Location, Location, Location

We have painting next to the sink but when we are at the table I always ask Jacob to help with table wiping which he loves. He’s also been brought up with the A place for everything motto so he’s well organised already.  – Zanliza K.

We do all art and messy sensory play on a huge tarp! I just clean it up and fold it away! I don’t know what I’d do with out it!  – Blaine N.

I guess my main mess-containment strategy is to limit the messiest activities to certain areas that I am comfortable messing up: the art table in our kitchen, the basement playroom, or my personal favorite, the backyard.  – Sarah H.

The messiest art at our house is easel painting. Fortunately, we live in such a temperate climate that we can generally take the easel out on the deck to do our painting. Drips that land on the “floor” can be hosed away, and I am able to relax a bit about the mess.  – Chelsea D.

Cover it up

I spent over an hour cleaning up our table after letting the kids explore with flour/water/oatmeal/soap and such. They had so much fun, but the mess was terrible. Since that day I now put a fitted sheet over the table when we do messy activities. This way I can just toss the whole thing into the wash! So much easier.  – Kimberly A.

I have lined tables with vinyl cloths, make sure the materials (especially liquids) stay mostly in the middle of the table in a tub or tray, and include everyone in cleanup time, with special jobs and a song. I like keeping cleaning spray and small rags/sponges around to clean up, too.  – Amanda G.

paint at the easel

Paint and Bathe

When my son was younger (3-4) he was really into painting his entire body whenever the paint came out. So I started doing a little time management and would just make sure we were painting on bath nights. So the paints would come out when I knew I had enough time for a full bath when the painting was done.  – Sarah H.

Tape to pick up glitter, painting happens at the end of the day (close to bath time), water beads happen in the bath tub, shaving cream in the bath tub, my sons love to “clean the floor” so I hand them a sponge and let ’em at it. – Marnie C.

What else?

So, what’s not on this list? Do you have a favorite tip that we missed?

More from the Art Tips Series

Clean up your paper scraps

Make your own stamps from cosmetic wedges


Art Tips: Low-cost Stamps made from Cosmetic Wedges

Weekly Art Tips on Tinkerlab.comHave you ever made a stamp from a cosmetic wedge?

A few weeks ago I shared this art tip about how you can salvage paper scraps that are left behind on the art table, and I invited you to let me know here and on Facebook if this was a series worth exploring. Enough of you said “yes,” that I thought I’d launch this new series and give it a whirl.

Art tip:  Upcycle cosmetic wedges as inexpensive stamps

Today’s art tip

Upcycle make-up sponges into easy, homemade stamps.

If you don’t have any cosmetic sponges in your home, they’re easily found in most dollar stores or the make-up aisle of the pharmacy. The wedges have a spongy texture that’s dense enough to hold ink or paint. I spotted this bag of 100 cosmetic wedges on Amazon for about $7.00, which is another option.

Because the wedges have a triangle shape there are only so many things you can do with them, but we found that they’re great for snipping up a heart-shaped stamp. One point of the triangle becomes the bottom of the heart, and then a few simple snips of the scissors will give you a nicely shaped heart.

All of mine came out a little wobbly, but this gives them handmade character.

Art tips: Make-up Sponge Printing

For a more archival picture or card, you can roll out some water-based printing ink like we did, but the cosmetic sponge stamps will work well dipped in a thin pool of tempera or acrylic paint. Washable tempera is more finicky, but great for messy, little hands. Acrylic paint isn’t washable, but it’s a good alternative to printing ink for painting on fabric or something more archival.

So, do you have any cosmetic wedges that are itching to be turned into a stamp? Would you try this?

A question for you

Are there any areas of art-making that you wonder about or struggle with? What other art tips would you like to see covered here?


Creative Table Project: Keep your table clear and your mind open

The other day I shared the Creative Table Project that’s happening over on Instagram. And do you know what? I’m floored because after that post went up, over 100 new Creative Tables were added to the visual database of ideas and inspiration. It got me thinking that maybe I should make the Creative Table Project a more regular feature of this site. What do you think?

In that vein, a couple days ago my 2-year old set up a really simple creative table.

Let’s take a peak…

Keep your table clear and your mind open: The Creative Table Project from Tinkerlab

It was time to re-paper the kids’ table so I walked into my supply closet to grab a roll of paper (we use brown craft paper from the hardware store, similar to this, in case you’re wondering). When I opened the door, my 2-year old, who happens to be glued to my side, spotted a container of paint pens on a high shelf and put in a request for them. The pens happened to be next to a big jar of craft sticks and she asked for those too.

I had a few other ideas in mind, but I happily obliged because I know that if she’s motivated to make something, her self-direction will carry the project to somewhere important.

How often do you let your child take the lead when he or she creates things?

Keep your table clear and your mind open: The Creative Table Project

While I rolled out the paper and taped it down to the table, she got right to work by adding color to the sticks. She invested her energy into covering the entire side of one stick with purple paint and another with green polka dots.

Why is this all so important? In moments like these, children have choices, they exercise their independence, and they have seemingly endless time to tinker and experiment.

If you want to encourage creative thinking in a child, it’s important to make room for open-ended exploration and self-directed learning.

There are plenty of moments in our days when we formally teach our children, scaffold their learning with information, or introduce them to new ideas that can help them grow. I bet you can think of at least one example.

But it’s equally important to encourage learning by making room for a child’s own ideas, inquiry, and moments of innovation to flourish.

So there it is. Not the most complicated post. In fact, the beauty in it lies in its simplicity.

This seems to go hand-in-hand with our Art Tips series, so here’s a quick takeaway for you:

Creative Table Tip #1

Keep your table clear and your mind open.

Inspiring articles on Creativity

Creativity in Young Children, by Sara Gable. If you have little kids, you’ll love this article.

Is Creativity the Number 1 Skill for the 21st Century?

The Decline of Creativity in the United States

The Creativity Crisis, a must-read article by journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

More about the Creative Table Project

Creative Table Project on Instagram

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Art Tips: Clean up Your Paper Scraps

Does your child like to decimate beautiful rectangles of construction paper into oblivion? Of course they do! And then what do you do with all those paper scraps when the fun is done?

Recycle them? Pitch them? Put them back in the paper sorter?

After a marathon crown-making session, this is what remained after my kids dissected our construction paper into a gazillion pieces.

art tips: tidy up your paper scraps

And do you know what happens to this paper? Will my kids ever want to use the scraps again? If I don’t touch it, not a chance.

I first noticed this phenomena when I was teaching.

Children don’t like to use broken crayons as much as they won’t get near a pre-used piece of construction paper.

Every child I know likes to cut right from the middle of a brand new sheet of paper. Have you ever noticed this? And who can blame them? The untouched rectangle is the perfect medium to hit with a good dose of imagination.

So what’s one to do?

Maybe you know this trick? It’s so simple, I’m sure you do…

art tips
Just pour yourself a cup of coffee, find a big pair of grown-up scissors, and give yourself a few minutes to get cutting. Maybe put on some good music. Chop – chop – chop.


You’ve chopped up a big batch of new, mini rectangles that are just as appealing as the first big one.

Art Tips: Chop Scraps into Tidy Rectangles

Do you have a favorite art tip?

I’m thinking about starting a new series of posts called Art Tips! Is this something that you’d like to see here? Little tips and tricks that will help you save money on art supplies, DIY art recipes, and tricks for making things come together.

Will you let me know what you think about this? And…if you have a favorite piece of artsy advice, I would LOVE to hear about it (and maybe I’ll feature it in an upcoming art tip!).