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A Trash Artist On Turning Your Recycling Into Monsters, Boats, And Race Cars

For more advice on fun stuff to do with your kids, from ridiculously overqualified experts, check out the rest of our 940 Weekends.

Before Brian Yanish was a mold maker at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and a professional illustrator, he was a 5-year-old drawing weird monsters made out of trash. Now he spends his time getting kids to think differently about what they’re tossing in the recycling bin. In his book, ScrapKins: Junk Re-Thunk, Yanish lays out what to cut and where to paste, but also turns these projects into a bigger story using his ScrapKin monsters. So, if there’s a rainy day coming up — and you haven’t taken out the trash — dump it in the living room floor and get creative. (Caution: Do not do this with the diaper genie.)

You Already Have Everything
There’s no reason to plan a family dumpster dive, because everything you need is in the recycling bin. “Milk carton, plastic jugs, toilet paper tubes, cereal boxes — you see all this junk around you every day, so we’re trying to get kids to see this stuff as projects instead.”


Put A Project Bin In Your Kitchen
Besides separating the plastic from the paper, you should also separate the usable supplies from the curbside pickup. “Kids will get into and start saving everything. Parents will lament their kids are never throwing anything away,” says Yanish. “I love the idea of challenging myself to come up with something based on what I have.” Start turning shredded newspaper into doll hair. Or plastic wrap into a boat base. Or that banana peel into a hilarious prank.

Make Toys, Not Art
“Interactivity is key,” says Yanish. “I don’t like to call this arts and crafts, because that’s a static project that gets thrown to the wayside.” He uses simple physics, like using the inertia from a rubber band to launch a Space Glider, or float a milk carton like a sailboat, to stun the little ones. But, above all, Yanish says kids love parachutes. “I’ve done this with tech savvy older kids and it always impressed them. You start with a plastic bag, string and tubes and you have a parachute that works.”


The Best And Worse Materials
“We don’t do anything with glass given the age group,” says Yanish. “I’m also not crazy about plastic. It’s not easy to cut, and water bottles are flimsy. They’re also hard to put together in a fashion that holds them together.”

So what is the preferred medium of the trash collector? “Cardboard is the best thing in the world and there’s so much of it in food packaging. Tubes, cartons, plastic jugs — anything you can cut with scissors without difficulty. If a material is too hard kids won’t be apt to use it.”

For Preschoolers

Box Puppet

What You’ll Need:
Thin cardboard, shoe box or tissue box, pencil, colored paper, scissors, markers and crayons, glue, strong tape

  1. If shoe box has a lid, remove it. Cut it off if attached. If you are using a tissue box, cut off the top.
  2. Make a cut down the middle of each side of the box and bend the two halves apart.
  3. Cut two wide strips of cardboard. Fold each strip in half, lengthwise, twice.
  4. Measure where strips will go inside puppet to hold fingers on top and thumb on bottom. Use strong tape to tape strips into place.
  5. Use extra cardboard and colored paper to make eyes, teeth, hair, etc. Design your own puppet face.
  6. Glue or tape your parts onto your puppet

“I use a tissue box, but cereal and shoe boxes also work. With just two cuts down the side and folding in half, you can see it become a puppet. Add some handles and it becomes a character,” says Yanish.

For Older Kids

Recycled Racer


What you’ll need:
Milk or juice carton, thin cardboard, 3 drinking straws, paint and paintbrush, paperclip, colored paper, rubber band, strong tape, cup, marker crayons, scissors, ruler, pencil, stapler
(If you have a printer, you can download patterns here. But you don’t necessarily need to)

  1. Cut carton in half, lengthwise. Each carton will make two cars.
  2. Punch 2 holes on side of carton, close to bottom. Insert a pencil into the hole and mark the opposite side. Punch holes on that side, using these marks.
  3. Trace a cup or something round (about 2-inches across) onto cardboard. Cut out 4 wheels.
  4. Punch a hole in the center of each wheel
  5. Cut 2 small slits in one end of each straw.
  6. Insert cut end of straw through hole in wheel. Fold down the ends of straw. Staple straw ends securely down. Repeat with other straw.
  7. Insert straw through hole in car. Trim extra straw off. *Leave about 1 inch of straw to attach other wheel. Make 1 cuts in the end of straw, slide on other wheel, fold down straw ends with tape.
  8. Cut last straw in half. Slide a straw piece inside each axle. TIP: If the fit is too tight, cut the straw on one edge so it slides in easier.
  9. Design hubcaps and a license plate from colored paper. Cut them out.
  10. Customize your car: Glue on your hubcaps and license plate. Use extra cardboard and carton pieces to add fins and other things. Try painting your car!
  11. Staple a rubber band to the front of the car, near the bottom.

How To Launch

  1. Bend open a paper clip. Bend up the smaller end so it forms a hook.
  2. Tape the paper clip to the bottom of a thick piece of cardboard so the hook end will face up.
  3. Turn over the cardboard. Loop the rubber band over the end of the hook, pull back racer, and let go!