Construction Site

Children will plan and build a variety of structures from recyclable materials

Lesson Objective

Children will understand that recyclable materials can be reused or repurposed to build structures.


What You'll Need

  • A large assortment of clean materials found in recycling bins
    • boxes from tissues, cereal, shoes
    • paper cups
    • paper towel rolls
    • oatmeal containers
    • paper grocery bags
    • plastic milk jugs
    • cardboard orange juice containers
    • plastic water bottles
    • plastic yogurt cups
    • newspapers
  • String or yarn – 2 balls
  • Clear tape – 4 rolls
  • Masking tape, multiple colors if possible – 4 rolls
  • Scissors – 1 per child
  • Drawing paper – at least 1 sheet per child
  • Crayons or markers

What To Do

  1. Show the children the materials and ask if they recognize any of the trash items. 
  2. Ask where each object came from, what was in it, and where they think you found it.
  3. Explain that the materials came from recycling bins.
  4. Tell the children they are going to reuse these materials to create a construction site!
  5. Show the recycled materials they can build with, including the tape and string to use for connecting the parts.
  6. Ask the children to examine the materials and draw a plan of what they might build. Have the children include a base for their structure.
  7. Take time to circulate, observe their drawings, and ask questions about which materials they plan to use.
  8. Give the children ample time to create, problem solve, and collaborate. Encourage them to think about the support for the structure so it will not collapse or lean to one side.
  9. If you are not able to save or display their constructions, take photographs and display the photographs.
  10. When the children are done, be sure to help them recycle the materials!

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Can you find a way to reuse these things to build something?
  • This container used to have tissues (yogurt, paper, orange juice, etc.) in it. How can you reuse it for your structure?
  • What is the strongest structure that you can build? What is the tallest? What is the widest?
  • What happens when you put the really big things on top? What can you do to keep it from leaning to the side?
  • Tell me some things that you will use to build what you drew in your picture.
  • What happens if you blow on your building?
  • What would happen if you removed something from the bottom of your building?
  • Why are some of the things easier to stack on your building? Why are some things harder?

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • The children can create “building blocks” by stuffing the grocery bags with newspaper, closing and folding the bags, and then taping them closed.
  • Sort and separate unused materials and leave them in the block area. Then encourage children to create more constructions during center time. Occasionally monitor the unused materials and discard the worn items.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Was each child able to create a diagram or plan before they began their structure? Could the children compare their diagram or plan to their finished structure?
  • If any children did not create a diagram before building, could they create a diagram upon completion of their structure?
  • If children were not able to create a diagram, could they give a name to their structure (e.g., castle, library, school)? Write the name of their building on a paper to serve as their plan.
  • Did each child recognize that they were reusing or recycling items in a way that was different from what the items were originally created for?


Did You Know?

A large percentage of the cardboard used in the United States is recycled. There are two basic types of cardboard manufactured. Stronger cardboard is recycled to make packing boxes. Thinner cardboard is used to make things like cereal boxes. Both types of cardboard are recyclable and can be made using recycled materials.

Recycled materials can be used in construction. Lots of construction materials are made out of recycled bottles. Recycled materials can be used when making sidewalks and playground surfaces. Insulation, drywall, and ceiling tiles in buildings and houses can contain recycled materials. Manufacturers can use recycled materials to make carpeting and carpet backing, floor tiles, and wood flooring.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • support – to hold up something or to help it stay up.
  • balance – to keep steady or to stay in one position and not fall.
  • lean – to bend in a certain direction; bend to one side.
  • base – the bottom part that supports something or that something stands on.
  • connect – when you join or link two things, you are connecting them.
  • collapse – to fall down or to end suddenly.

Lesson Tips

  • Make sure that all of the plastic containers are clean and dry.
  • Do not use aluminum cans, because they have sharp edges.
  • If you have time, allow the children to decorate their structures. They could paint or color them, or use construction paper to add more detail.


  • Building by Elisha Cooper
  • Construction Zone by Tana Hoban
  • Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran
  • Building A House by Byron Barton
  • Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

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Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS