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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.
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 and collection of 50+ kids art project ideas for a simple way to encourage art investigation and play!
Kids functional art theme 1: MODERN CLASSICS
These kids art projects are four twists on classics that put the “fun” in “functional” and encourage creativity through sustainable supplies.
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
Kids functional art theme 2: ANIMAL-THEMED CRAFTS
Let out your inner art animal with this group of creative creatures that will have your kiddos playing all day!
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
Kids functional art theme 3: WEARABLE COSTUME ART
Proudly wear your work with these four handmade costume ideas that use creative art processes and recycled supplies!
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
Kids functional art theme 4: FANTASY PLAY
Peg dolls, fairies, mermaids and gnomes – this artistic quartet of crafts is perfect for puppet-making or small world play.
Craft a darling set of Egg Carton Fairy Dolls from ART CAMP
Create a beautiful set of Kid-Made Diverse Peg People from barley & birch
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
Kids functional art theme 5: 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.
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
Kids functional art theme 6: STEAM PLAY
Need an escape? These 4 creative projects will fire up your kids’ imaginations and small-world-building skills...
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
Kids functional art theme 7: 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!
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
Kids functional art theme 8: 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!
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
Kids functional art theme 9: LOOSE PARTS & MIXED MEDIAS
Explore paper-folding, sewing with scraps, using nature finds and loose parts with this mini medley of functional art projects!
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
Kids functional art theme 10: 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!
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
Kids functional art theme 11: 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.
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,