This week we’re using recycled materials for all of our STEAM Activities to celebrate Earth Day. Today’s activity is making boats! We found this activity in our new May Highlights High Five magazine.

A few family members have gifted my kids monthly subscriptions to several awesome kids magazines, so we read magazines during breakfast every morning. We were all excited to try this activity after we read about it. 

I save recyclable items such as boxes, bottles, milk cartons, toilet and paper towel rolls, plastic food cartons, and more and store them in a previously empty cabinet in our house. It comes in handy for many of our STEAM activities. You never know when you need a 2-liter bottle, empty cardboard box, or a milk jug for an experiment! Today’s activity provided the perfect opportunity for my kids to raid my recyclables cabinet!


  • Hull: small shallow plastic containers, lids, half gallon milk cartons, etc… (make sure it’s a waterproof material!)
  • Mast: toilet paper rolls, straws, toy sticks, etc… (we used a Crafty Connects connector stick)
  • Sail: small pieces of cardboard, paper, fabric, aluminum foil, etc… (we used cardboard cut into triangles)


  1. Pick a recycled material for the hull (body of the boat)
There are so many options of fun materials to choose from! I think the frisbee in the background would have made a fun boat!

2. Attach a mast (the tall support for the sail) using glue, tape, play dough, anything lightweight with a strong hold that you have on hand

We attached the toilet paper roll mast to the hull with tape
We attached the crafty connects stick mast to the hull by cutting a small hole in the container lid, and pushing the stick through the hole

3. Attach the sail to the mast, using tape, staples, glue, etc…

Cutting the cardboard sail
Attaching the sail with tape
No tape needed to attach the sail to the Crafty Connects stick, it clips in!

4. Fill a tub, sink, or large bowl with water (doing this during bath time is the best way to conserve water while doing this activity)
5. Place your boat in water and see if it floats! 
5a. If it DOES float, can you make it move? Try providing wind by blowing on the sail.
5b. If it DOES NOT float, try to troubleshoot and fix the problem: is it too heavy? Too light? Unbalanced? Not a water proof material? Change your design and try again… We had 3 revisions on my daughter’s boat design before we got it to float. 

This boat did not float, we could not balance the sail – it was top heavy
This boat floated!
These two boats floated


  • Science: Recycling and reusing materials is so important to protecting our planet. We are teaching kids that materials we have around the house can be repurposed in many ways. 
  • Engineering: Your kids are learning about boat design, parts of a boat, and how to make their boat float.
    • Displacement: the boat pushes aside water to make room so it can float.
    • Buoyancy: if the object being placed in water weighs less than water it will float (Archimedes principle). 
  • Art: This project gives kids plenty of opportunities to get creative with the boat design, and they can use their imaginations while they decorate the boat. 
Boat 1: did not float
Boat 2: did float

My kids had a blast digging through my recycled items cabinet for materials to make their boats. We also enjoyed getting wet while testing our boats. We had several revisions and lots of trial and error before we had success, so encourage your kids to keep trying if they don’t initially succeed with their design. 

For more Earth Day STEAM Activity ideas see my Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Earth Day STEAM post. And make sure you’re subscribed to my post notification email because I’ll be posting new Earth Day themed activities using recycled materials all week this week!


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