Discover: 40+ Functional Art Projects for Kids

When it comes to art projects, I’m a big fan of form + function. For many many years now, one of my day jobs has been graphic design work. I consider myself pretty lucky because three-quarters of the time it’s a lot of work…but the other 25%…? Pure PLAY. You wouldn’t believe how much time I spend down on the floor folding up pieces of paper for packaging experiments, building out mini dioramas to see what a pattern-printed wall will look like, or scribbling fun little brand idea drawings out in colored pencil.

What I continue to learn from my own experience is that art, design, and play truly go hand-in-hand. And I mention all of this because, when it comes to planning kids’ projects for barley & birch, my first thought is almost always, “what will they be able to DO with this?” and then, “how can I make sure this feels like play?”

The beauty of functional art projects (for kids and adults alike) is that long after the actual “making of,” they become part of a larger hands-on art experience through use or play.

Serious art is born from serous play | Discover a collection of over 40  functional kids art projects via barley & birch
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Since working on b&b, I’ve kept a list of people and projects I’ve found inspiring because they put the “fun” in functional art (three cheers for projects you can use or play with!) With so many of us at home and mostly indoors right now, I thought it was high time I shared some of my coveted favorites, so I put together a little collection (grouped by themes!) that you can use to find projects that will keep your littles busy long past the art and crafting is over.

Each of these lovely ideas reinforces the idea that art isn’t just made to hang on the wall – we can have just as much fun with the product as the process!

Looking for more ways to explore art with your kids at home or in a classroom? Pair these projects with our free printable kids art challenge for a simple way to encourage art investigation and play!

MODERN CLASSICS

These kids art projects are four twists on classics that put the “fun” in “functional” and encourage creativity through sustainable supplies.

This collection of over 40  functional kids art projects encourages little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch

Explore printing with DIY Vegetable-stamped Market Totes from barley & birch

Craft a set of beautiful Scrap Paper Bowls from Brainy Beginnings Network

Make a simple, smudge-free Chalk Pastel Rainbow Pillow from barley & birch

Recycle paper tubes into Hen and Chick Treat Boxes from Red Ted Art

ANIMAL-THEMED CRAFTS

Let out your inner art animal with this group of creative creatures that will have your kiddos playing all day!

Animal-themed art and play projects for kids - part of a collection of over 40 functional art projects that encourage little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch

Build a Play Pet Tank from Recycled Supplies with painted and paper cut foliage from barley & birch

Now that you have a play pet tank, fill it with Cereal Box Lizards from ART CAMP

Put together a Recycled Cardboard Puppet Theater from Make It Your Own

Make your own Painted Carton Bee Pollen-Collecting Game from Honigkukuk

WEARABLE COSTUME ART

Proudly wear your work with these four handmade costume ideas that use creative art processes and recycled supplies!

DIY Costume art and play projects for kids - part of a collection of over 40 functional art projects that encourage little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch

Decorate your own Kid-Made Superhero Capes from Oh Creative Day

Cut up and paint a pizza box to make a Lion Mask from barley & birch

Experiment with stamping Butterfly Masks from barley & birch

Fly high with a Paper Bag Butterfly Costume from Make It Your Own

FANTASY PLAY

Peg dolls, fairies, mermaids and gnomes – this artistic quartet of crafts is perfect for puppet-making or small world play.

Doll-themed art and play projects for kids - part of a collection of over 40 functional art projects that encourage little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch

Craft a darling set of Egg Carton Fairy Dolls from ART CAMP

Use up some scrap supplies with these Kid-Made Peg People from Art Bar

Make adorable Paper Tube and Egg Carton Gnome Party Invitations from Honigkukuk

Dip into a sea of art goodness with these dreamy Egg Carton Mermaid Dolls from ART CAMP

PRETEND PLAY FOOD

Food glorious food! From coloring to cardboard cutting, these DIY pretend play food projects are great opportunities for artistic exploration that can be used over and over for dramatic play.

Pretend food art and play projects for kids - part of a collection of over 40 functional art projects that encourage little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch

Sew some simple DIY Felt Treats from Red Ted Art

Color-your-own Cardboard Market Food from barley & birch

Top your own Recycled Cardboard Pizza from La Maison de LouLou for Handmade Charlotte

Make a Cardboard Tea Set from Handy With Scissors

STEAM PLAY

Need an escape? These 4 creative projects that will fire up your kids’ imaginations and small-world-building skills...

Imagination-filled art and play projects for kids - part of a collection of over 40 functional art projects that encourage little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch

Imagine your way to hidden treasure with these Kid-Made Felt Maps from Make It Your Own

Construct an artist-inspired Collaged Building Block Castle from barley & birch for ART CAMP

Engineer a Recycled Construction Site from La Maison de LouLou for hello, Wonderful

Arrange a Magic Mushroom Fairy Garden from Make It Your Own

NATURE EXPLORATION

This group of artful activities inspires kids to make something they can use to get outside and explore the natural world right outside their front door!

Four functional nature art projects that inspire kids to create something they can use for outdoor exploration. | from barley & birch
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Turn a shoebox into a pop-up nature science station with this DIY Outdoor Explorer Kit from barley & birch

Light up the night with an art-lined Upcycled Camp Lantern from barley & birch

Build and decorate your own Bug Observation Box from barley & birch

Create Collaged Memory Maps you can use for interactive outdoor scavenger hunts from barley & birch

ARTFUL BADGES, TROPHYS AND AWARDS

If you’ve worked your way through all the projects on this list so far, YOU deserve an AWARD! Here are a few of our favorite handmade prizes for art-standing efforts!

Award-themed art and play projects for kids - part of a collection of over 40 functional art projects that encourage little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch

Create a set of Art Badges (with free printables!) from barley & birch

Make flair you can wear with Paper Plate Party Hats from Art Bar

Experiment with patterns for Geometric Cardboard Necklaces from barley & birch

Declare yourself the functional art winner with an Upcycled Trophy from Handy With Scissors

LOOSE PARTS & MIXED MEDIAS

Explore paper-folding, sewing with scraps, using nature finds and loose parts with this mini medley of functional art projects!

This collection of over 40  functional kids art projects encourages little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch

Try these cute Upcycled Giraffe Marionettes from Red Ted Art

Use up some scrap fabrics with a Squeezable Softie from Coloured Buttons

Work in a little nature with Mixed Media Stick Wands from Make It Your Own

Incorporate some math with Loose Part Flower Gardens from Make It Your Own

MEDIUM EXPLORATION

Looking to experiment with new art mediums and processes? Here are four fun functional art activities that will have your kids cheering for more!

This collection of over 40  functional kids art projects encourages little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch

Play with clay to make adorable Heart Pinch Pots from Red Ted Art

Create stackable art with a set of DIY Kids Art Play Blocks from hello, Wonderful

Try a Papier Mache Spring Basket from Red Ted Art

Make your own Sharpie Tie-Dyed Tee Shirts from Babble Dabble Do

HOME AND HABITAT BUILDING

From the city to the country, these homes and habitats are STEAM-filled, upcycled stunners your kids can play with for days.

Four STEAM-filled habitat and home-building functional art projects for kids
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Experiment with textures for a stylish play Mid-Century Modern Shoebox House from barley & birch

Build your own Fold-Out Cardboard City Landscape from barley & birch

Raise a DIY Recycled Play Barn from La Maison de LouLou for hello, Wonderful

Use colorful paper and cardboard to make a Fold-Out Secret Garden backdrop for play from barley & birch

Can’t get enough of this handmade goodness? Art-lovers will enjoy our list of 50+ amazing projects to help kids discover new art mediums (pair the projects with a book from our favorite art-themed picture books FTW!) And check out our list of 50 inventive ideas for a family movie & craft night,

This collection of over 40  functional kids art projects encourages little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch
  • Save
This collection of over 40 functional kids art projects encourages little ones to create hands-on art they can play with and use in everyday life. | via barley & birch
  • Save

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2 Comments

    • You and your crew have made so many amazing things – it was nearly impossible to narrow down which ones to share! I love everything you make, so thank YOU for letting me include some! – Xx Amanda

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