Look What Trash Can Create!

K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Students learn about the environmental effect of crayons and their own power to make an impact. Students collect gently used crayons from restaurants and other places in the community. They sort them by color, repackage them for re-use, add a kind note, and donate the new packages where they identify a need. This elementary lesson includes an art lesson with crayons, pictured here. This lesson is enhanced when it involves collaboration between classrooms from elementary to high school. 

PrintTwo or Three 30-minute sessions

The learners will...

  • state the environmental and community benefits of recycling crayons.
  • define philanthropy and identify what they can do.
  • sort collected crayons by color.
  • demonstrate self-awareness (SEL) in a creative art project.
  • write a kind note to the child who receives the recycled crayon package.
  • Optional: build connections by collaborating with students in other classrooms. 
  • reflect on the feelings that come with being involved with philanthropy.
  • crayons
  • art paper - 11" x 14" white
  • shoeboxes for sorting crayons (may be provided by middle school students)
  • rubber bands or other materials for repackaging crayons (may be designed by other partner classrooms), such as homemade paper envelopes, paper lunch bags, cloth bags, ribbons, or other creative ideas (avoid plastic bags for sustainability)
Teacher Preparation 

Build School Community: Ask a middle school teacher to teach lesson two and design a way to package the new crayon packs. Ask a high school teacher to teach lesson three and locate restaurants who will donate crayons and schools where the crayons can be donated.

  • Go to CrayonCollection.org (scroll to bottom of page) to find Title I schools in your area where crayons may be needed.
  • Other locations that may appreciate the crayons are daycare centers, nonprofits that support families, special education classes, and Head Start. Also, police stations, foster care offices, local WIC offices, economic crisis centers, homeless shelters/kitchens, and nonprofits that support kids with disabilities.
  • Contact the school or organization to ask about their need before you start the project. Ask how many are needed and how they'd like them packaged for their use. 

Note: Preview the students' kind notes to be sure they are readable and appropriate for the audience.  

Home Connection 

Send a note home informing families about the project and ways to support. Sample below: 

Dear Families,

We are participating in a used Crayon Collection to benefit the environment and a variety of programs in our community. Our students are collecting gently used crayons that we will sort and repackage and donate to programs and families where funds for school supplies are limited. This will allow families in need to give their budding artists the opportunity to succeed. Please give your child permission to collect crayons that are no longer needed. Please do not buy new crayons for this project. Our goal is to collect used crayons from homes and restaurants because they end up in landfills where it takes years, even decades, for them to break down.  To learn more, check out the website CrayonCollection.org and LearningtoGive.org/teachone.


Discussion Questions:

  • What does my crayon art tell others about who I am? 
  • What do I want to say to the child who gets this package of crayons that our community brought together? 
  • Why is it better for the environment to reuse crayons than throw them away?


  1. Anticipatory Set

    Have a discussion about what you and the students like about crayons. Talk about how they can be used creatively.

    Ask, "Did you ever get a pack of crayons at a restaurant? What do you think happens to these and other crayons when you are done with them?" Share these facts from Crayon Collection:

    • Over 100 million crayons are thrown out every year by restaurant chains across the U.S.
    • Around 100 crayons equals one pound of waste.
    • Crayons are wonderful tools, but crayon waste has a significant, negative environmental impact. Made from paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum, it can take years (even decades) for a crayon to decompose in a landfill.
    • This 3-minute video shows what happens to our garbage and raises awareness of ways to reduce landfill waste. 
    • If students need more background on what it means for garbage to decompose and why it takes so long, read This Book Stinks: Gross Garbage, Rotten Rubbish, and the Science of Trash by Sarah Wassner Flynn.

    Shall we do something about this waste and help people who need crayons? Show this 3-minute video What Is Philanthropy? and discuss what your students like about getting involved in making a difference as a classroom and school.

  2. Discuss the possible organizations that might want the crayons they collect. See Teacher Preparation above. Guide students to identify the targeted location.

    Get students started collecting gently used crayons (that would be thrown away) as an environmental project. Tell them about the place where the collected crayons will be donated to put usable crayons in the hands of children who need them. 

    1. Ask them where they can find crayons without buying new. Restaurants, schools, and their own families probably have leftovers they plan to throw away. Determine where the collection boxes will be and talk about collection methods.
    2. Predict with the students how many they can collect by a date you determine. Calculate how many crayons that is per student or per day. Set your goals. Create a large class graph and add to this graph daily/weekly as the students bring crayons in.
    3. Send home the above note to families so the students can talk about the project at home.  
    4. Provide rewards for making it to levels on their collection graph, such as extra recess, free choice time, sit by a buddy, or read with a partner time. Talk about the pride they feel in reaching goals and helping others.
    5. Allow time for decorating the bags or package in which the crayons will be delivered. 
    6. At writing time, have the students create heartfelt messages to send in the crayon packages.
    7. Optional: partner with another classroom (older students) to package, sort, and distribute the crayons, if desired. Build community culture by involving the whole school and whole community in doing good. 
    8. Consider bringing media and community awareness to your students' eforts. This media and timetable guide will help.
  3. Introduce CrayonCollection.org and tell students about their efforts to repurpose crayons destined for the trash by gathering and sharing crayons with schools that can use them. Video Introduction

    Introduce LearningtoGive.org as an organization that helps teachers all over the world with lesson plans like this one to teach their students about giving their time, talent, or treasure and to build community around doing good.

    Vocabulary: Tell the students that these organizations above are "nonprofit" organizations that have a mission to make the world better, while a restaurant is a local for-profit business that makes money for the people who own it. Both types of organizations provide important services for communities. 

  4. Teach the following Art Project to make something beautiful with crayons while building self-awareness and creativity.

    Introduction: Our body is the container of who we are. It holds physical things like our brain, heart, bones, organs, muscles, nerves and blood. Aside from these physical things, each of our bodies holds invisible things: emotions, thoughts, ideas, hopes, dreams, intentions, and desired actions. 

    Beyond Our Bodies: Think about all the invisible things that are specific to you: your identity, your emotions, your thoughts, your ideas, your hopes, your dreams, your intentions and the actions you wish to take.

    Step 1:  On the back of your paper, write down all of the invisible things contained in your self. It can be specific or general. Don’t be judgmental about your list, it can represent how you are right now or how you want to be in the future.

    Step 2:  After finished writing down invisible things, flip paper over to the blank side.

  5. Step 3: A New Portrait.  We are going to imagine a different version of our “self” made up of the invisible things on our lists. Create a drawing of new kind of body. One that no longer must have an oval head, neck, arms, torso, etc.

    Imagine where each of these invisible things exist in the new body. For example, will creativity be closer to head region and courage toward bottom of drawing? All is possible. You may want to sketch using lighter, pale colors first to compose on the page.  

    Tip! Encourage creative, unconventional, mutant, weird, and abstract line-making and form with imaginary representation.

  6. Into the World: Think about filling the space outside of this “new body.” How does this new body relate to the world around it? How does this new body reach out beyond its boundaries? How does it share these invisible things with other people and engage with the world around it?  What does this new body BRING INTO the world around it? How do we draw that? 

    Step 4:  Draw how the new body connects to the space around it. Draw into all areas of the paper.

  7. Art Project Variation for Early Childhood: 

    Students draw themselves with crayons, including physical characteristics and things that they like and enjoy. (ex: A little girl with brown hair and brown eyes, wearing jeans and tennis shoes, playing basketball.)  

  8. After students draw themselves in this new way, ask them to tell a partner about their drawings, telling a couple of details that makes them who they are. Discuss the satisfaction they get from being able to share that with the class (the world). 

    Discuss as a whole class what their drawings say about who they are and how they are part of a community.

    Display the drawings for the whole school to see. The students can help decide on a title and a sentence to describe the art for the hall display

  9. Service Project:

    • After the children have collected lots of crayons, work together to sort collected crayons by color into shoe boxes. To help with sorting, cover or mark shoe boxes with a single color each to match crayon colors. Have a sorting party for the collected crayons.
    • Re-group the crayons into sets of assorted colors and put a rubber band around each set. 
    • Students write a kind note for the person who will receive the new package of recycled crayons (plan this to match the number of recipients).
    • Optional: invite middle school school and high school students to help re-package the sorted crayons creatively and donate them to a school with a kind note attached. 
Cross Curriculum 

Involve the students in research about crayon ingredients and engineering, as well as the environmental impact of throwing them away.

You may involve (older) students in identifying and contacting places where there are children who can use the repurposed packs of crayons. Go to www.crayoncollection.org to look up Title 1 schools in your community. Consider other locations such as daycare centers, nonprofits that support families, and HeadStart. 

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.5 Recognize the wise use of resources as <i>stewardship</i>.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe the task and the student role.