Before trim shops and super
discount stores came into being, people decorated their Christmas trees with
whatever they had on hand. Many times they used buttons, scrap fabric, or other
household materials. Recently, we taught some students how to recycle solid
waste to make Christmas tree ornaments. Nearly two dozen kids who attend
Central Middle School in Columbus, Indiana were challenged to create
decorations entirely from solid waste for the tree at kidscommons, our local
The students used materials such as designer wallpaper and fabric samples, cardboard, polystyrene trays, and jewelry to create more than 50 ornaments. Kidscommons will sell the decorations, and the young artists and the museum plan to share the profits. The students decorated the tree on America Recycles Day. This is an observance held each year on November 15 to encourage people to recycle and buy goods that are made of recycled content.
Most people think recycling is gathering newspapers, cans, bottles and other items and delivering them to a drop-off point, but collecting solid waste is only the first step. To complete the process, waste materials are made into new goods, and in order for recycling to work, the public must buy them. When you see the "green chasing arrows" emblem on a package, it indicates that the container is made of recycled materials or that the manufacturer recycled to produce the item inside.
As you shop for the holidays this year, look for the green arrows and buy recycled. This will help save natural resources and landfill space, and it will support the companies that are working to preserve the environment. To have a really "green Christmas," try recycling solid waste to make your own decorations, as we did. Following are instructions to create a gingerbread house, gingerbread kids, and garlands. These are the same decorations that the Central Middle School students made for the kidscommons Christmas tree.
Print out the pattern (click here to get pattern) and trace it onto the plain, uncoated side of a 6-inch by 8-inch piece of cereal carton or other lightweight, scrap cardboard. Cut out the "I-shape" and fold it as indicated by the dotted lines. This will be easier if you first lay a ruler on the area and score the cardboard by drawing one blade of the scissors across it.
Step 1: Cut out the shape, which will resemble a
capital letter I".
Step 2: Pop up the house by folding the roof line.
Step 3: Fold the wall section down.
Step 4: Fold the opposite wall section down.
Step 5: Now slide the two folded wall sections together
Step 6: Repeat folding and gluing of the opposite end walls.
Step 7: Another view showing all of the sides from the bottom.
Step 8: If necessary, place paper clips on the ends to hold everything in place while the glue dries.
Step 9: To hide the open, triangular ends of the house,
we'll cover them with cardboard. Cut two- 2" x 3.75" scraps of cardboard. Lay
one piece, plain side up, in front of you. Line up the bottom edge so that it
matches the house, and trace the top.
Step 10: Cut out the shape, and glue it to the 2" x 2" square at the bottom.
Step 11: Repeat for the other end.
Step 12: To make holes for the ribbon hanger, find the center of the roof and mark it. Use the compass point or awl to carefully punch a hole about ¼" inch on either side of the mark.
Step 13: Wash the polystyrene trays in hot, soapy water
and dry them. Break off the edges, and save the pieces for the garland project
that appears at the bottom of this activity. Cut them into the following
pieces: two 2" x 2", two 2" x 3.75", and two 2.75" x 3". Glue the 2" x 2"
sections to the sides of the house, and trace the 2" x 3.75" pieces for the
ends, as you did before.
Step 14: Cut them out, and glue them to the house. Use rubber bands to hold the polystyrene in place on the sides and ends until the glue dries.
Step 15: Finally, glue the 2.75" x 3" pieces to the roof. Space them equally, with the 3" pieces hanging over each end. Allow about 1/8" between the two pieces along the roof line so that the holes are still visible. That will make it easier to string the ornament for hanging later. Hold the roof in place while the glue dries, or use rubber bands until it sets up.
Step 16: Paint all the sections brown to look like gingerbread. To simulate icing and candy, decorate the ornament with craft paints in squeeze-type bottles. These are the same paints that are used to decorate T-shirts, hats, and tennis shoes, and they come in a variety of colors.
Step 17: Use the paints just as you would if you were
working with real icing to make a door and windows, to add decorative touches,
and to hide joints where one edge of the house meets another.
Step 18: Apply paint to the roof, but avoid covering the holes where the hanger will be placed later. Allow the paint to dry for twelve hours before continuing.
Step 19: Use the compass point or awl to poke one end of a 14" length of ribbon through one of the holes in the top of the roof.
Step 20: Repeat on the opposite side with the other end. If necessary, use tweezers to bring the two ends through the house until the ribbon meets the roof line.
Step 21: Match the ends, and tie in a knot. Pull the
ribbon up through the house till the knot touches the underside of the
Step 22: Finally, cut a 3.5" square of polystyrene, and then break off the corners and sides into an irregular shape. Place the house in the center. Squeeze white craft paint all along the bottom edge of the house to simulate snow and to glue it to the base. Set aside for twelve hours to allow the paint to dry.
Step 23: Finished house with decorated windows and roof patterns.
Step 24: A perch can be added using a short piece of dowel rod.
*Cutting of the cardboard and polystyrene for the gingerbread house can be done quickly and more accurately with a paper trimmer, but it should be used only by an adult.
We used heavy cardboard shapes that were donated by a local industry to create our gingerbread people. It is unlikely that you will find the same materials, but you can create something similar by tracing a gingerbread cookie cutter onto cardboard or a polystyrene tray and cutting out the shape. Paint the "cookie" brown with acrylic paint. After it has dried, cut clothing from the scrap fabric and glue it to the body. Use the T-shirt paints to add "icing" trim and to make facial features. Just squeeze out lines and dots as you would if you were decorating real cookies. When the paint is dry, make a hole in the top, and hang by a piece of scrap ribbon.
Have an adult use a paper trimmer to cut sample wallpaper book pages into long strips measuring one inch wide by twelve to fifteen inches in length. Longer strips make bigger beads. Tightly roll each strip onto the toothpick. After you've rolled the paper a short distance, place a small amount of glue on the strip, and roll the bead, gluing it to itself. Continue rolling the bead till you come to the end of the paper. Glue it shut and hold the end for a few seconds. Remove the toothpick, and continue until you've made enough beads to fill at least half or more of the string or line. For the remainder of the garland, use beads cut from old necklaces and bracelets.
In order to thread the garland, find a needle with an eye large enough for the string or line to fit through, but small enough to go through the beads. In some cases, it will be possible to thread the garland without a needle. Starting with one of the necklace or bracelet beads, take the needle in and around it several times to secure the end. Alternate stringing the wallpaper beads with those from the old jewelry. To fasten the last bead in the garland, take the needle in and around several times, as you did when you started. Finally run the needle under the thread to knot it.
*We also made a long garland composed of seven or eight necklaces just by hooking one necklace to another at the fastener. We chose necklaces of only one color and type-in this case they were white, simulated pearls. Also we paid special attention to the size and shape of the beads, and we tried to choose necklaces that were similar, so that the finished garland would look attractive.
Polystyrene is a material used to make trays for packaging produce, baked goods, and meat. You can string small, white pieces together to make a garland that looks like the popcorn that many people use to decorate their trees. Saving the edges from the trays in the gingerbread house activity is a good way to use the scraps, but this garland will use many trays! To start, break the polystyrene into one-inch pieces.
Measure kite or fishing line so that it's nine to twelve feet long, cut it from the spool, and thread the needle. Knot the line, and thread it through the first piece of polystyrene, running it to the knot. Wrap it around this piece several times, and run it through again.
Begin making the garland, taking care to thread the scraps through their centers. Continue until the line is full, and then take the needle in and around the last piece several times and through it to fasten the garland. To make the ends more secure, have an adult fasten the end pieces with a glue gun.
You'll find many items in our supply list around your house, but you may have to go to other sources for some materials. For example, employees of interior design firms and paint stores will share discontinued fabric and wallpaper sample books. If you're unable to find wallpaper books, substitute scraps of gift-wrap or other decorative paper or fabric.
We filled in bare spots and added bits of color to our tree by placing silk flowers that were donated by a home-decorating store. Gift shops often discard old or damaged merchandise, and you may be able to salvage parts for ornaments. Also, florists may donate scraps of ribbon, dried flowers, picks, beads, and other decorative items. You can gather lots of old jewelry for garlands and ornaments just by asking relatives and neighbors.
We started collecting solid waste and creating our decorations on Make A Difference Day. Visit the Make A Difference Day site to learn how you can make your community a better place to live. See America Recycles Day on the Web to discover how you can help save natural resources, and sign up to win some great prizes.
A special thank you to Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center staff members Diane Doup and Randy Allman who collaborated on the tree decorating project with us, and to the staff at kidscommons, a Columbus, Indiana children's museum, for displaying and selling the students' ornaments.
Also, thanks to the many individuals who donated items and to the owners or staff members of the following businesses and organizations who also helped provide solid waste materials: Bartholomew County Recycling Center, Four Seasons Retirement Center, Heart and Home, Mona Wirth Interiors, Pollert Design Associates, Rock-Tenn, Terra Cotta, and The Boutique.
And, of course, thanks to art teacher Leslie Khune and the wonderful Central Middle School students who created our fantastic ornaments! Last names were not used to protect the privacy of the students. They are as follows: Brandi B., Nicole B., Christi B., Aly B., Catherine B., Britteny C., Chelsea C., Abbi C., Colin C., Shannon F., Orrin K., Laura K., Nicole L., Jennifer P., Sarah R., Emily S., Elizabeth T., Mandy W., Pan Pan W., and Anna W.