Reuse It!

Children will reuse materials for a new purpose.

Lesson Objective

The children will identify some common items in the recycling bin and give them a new purpose.


What You'll Need

  • Collection of clean, empty, reusable and recyclable materials from your home or school such as:
    • Cans
    • Milk jugs
    • Juice cartons
    • Cardboard boxes, such as cereal boxes, shoe boxes, or shirt boxes
    • Plastic bottles
    • Yogurt containers
  • Chart paper and marker
  • Markers and crayons
  • Construction paper
  • Glue
  • Scissors

What To Do

  1. Display the collection of materials on a table. Ask the children to identify the items and where the items came from.
  2. Tell children all of the things can be recycled. When something is recycled, it is broken down and the pieces are used to make something else (see Did You Know).
  3. Explain that they are going to think of a different way to use these things; we call this reusing.
  4. Demonstrate using an empty plastic milk jug as a container to use for watering plants. “This was once a milk jug, but we have given it a new purpose. It is now a watering can.”
  5. Demonstrate reusing other items such as an empty cardboard box for storing spare toy parts, an empty can as a pencil holder, an empty yogurt container as a crayon holder, etc.
  6. Ask the children to think of ways the other items could be reused. Record responses on chart paper.
  7. Invite the children to choose an item for reusing. Allow them to decorate it with markers, crayons, construction paper, etc.
  8. When the children have finished, ask them what they decided their item could be reused for.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Describe what it means for something to be recycled.
  • How could you reuse your item?
  • Can you make anything else out of any of the other items left on the table?

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Continue to reuse recyclable items in the classroom. For example, use clean containers with lids to store paint, glue, or modeling clay, reuse empty yogurt containers for planting seeds in the spring, cut the tops off cereal boxes and use them to store magazines.
  • Encourage the children to examine items they are ready to throw away and think of ways to reuse them.
  • Recycle old crayons by collecting pieces of crayons, remove the paper coverings, melt them down, and pour into a foil lined pan. Allow time to harden. When hardened, break into large chunks.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children understand and explain the difference between recycle and reuse?
  • Can children talk about how reusing items is good for our planet?
  • Could the children choose an item and find a reuse for that item?


Did You Know?

The average person creates about 4 pounds of solid trash each day. Many of the things we use every day can be reused for a new purpose. Finding ways to reuse products takes some imagination. Just as we found new purposes for boxes and containers, other items can be reused. For instance unwanted household items can be donated to a local charitable thrift store. Once there, the items will be sorted and reused. Many animal shelters will accept discarded newspapers as well as old towels and sheets.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • reuse – to use again or use more than once.
  • recycle – to put used things through a process that allows them to be used again.
  • purpose – the reason that something exists or happens.
  • watering can – a container, usually with a handle and a spout that has a perforated end, for watering plants.
  • container  something, such as a box, bottle, or can, that contains or can contain something else.
  • collect – to gather together.

Lesson Tips

  • Check the tops of any empty cans for sharp edges.
  • Be certain all containers are washed and dry before reusing them.


  • Reusing and Recycling (Help the Environment)by Charlotte Guillain
  • How to Help the Earth —by The Lorax by Tish Rabe
  • Choose to Reuse by Lisa Bullard
  • What Can You Do With An Old Red Shoe? by Anna Alter

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