Make: A Cardboard Christmas Tree Craft for Kids

Rockefeller Center, eat your heart out! NYC has nothing on our eye-popping evergreen – the latest addition to our cardboard art project family and merriest little cardboard Christmas tree you ever did see.

Cardboard boxes keep piling up on my doorstep (signs from the art gods!) so I’ve spent the better part of December recycling them into holiday decorations (did you catch yesterdays’ mini holiday village?). Using the magic of color, shape, pattern, and scraps, you can make a stunningly jolly Christmas tree just like ours!

This merry and bright cardboard Christmas tree is a fantastic recycled holiday art project for kids, and a great way to use up scrap paper and wrap! | via barley & birch

My baggies of paper scraps overfloweth (especially this time of year) so I cut a quick pile of simple shapes out and went to town “decorating” an easy interlocking cardboard tree. By the time I was finished, the patchwork of patterns had morphed into beautiful abstract ornaments. I’m so pleased with the graphic look of this recycled beauty – can’t you just imagine it lighting up the city night?

Our DIY cardboard Christmas tree lighting up the city night! | via barley & birch

You don’t need any fancy art or craft supplies for this bright and colorful Christmas tree, and it makes for a phenomenal invitation to create). Even better, you can disconnect the pieces at the end of the season to pack them flat and store them for next year. Believe me, this is one lovely keepsake you won’t want to toss out come January.

This festive new tree has become the talk of our cardboard town! You can visit the tutorial for our cardboard city landscape book to make your own city Christmas scene!

For your own DIY recycled cardboard Christmas tree you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains a few Woodpeckers Crafts and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • Scrap cardboard or a cereal box (at least 8.5-inches x 11-inches)
  • A utility knife and/or scissors (I love this kind for cutting cardboard!)
  • Acrylic, tempera, or chalkboard paint and a foam brush
  • Scrap paper in assorted patterns and colors
  • A glue stick

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

  • Office supply label stickers, gold foil stars, etc.
  • Markers or chalk pens (this is the white chalk marker I use)

DIY Recycled Cardboard Christmas Tree Instructions:

  1. Gather two pieces of scrap cardboard

    Find two pieces of cardboard that are at least 8.5-inches x 11-inches (I used 9-inch x 13-inch to make it a bit bigger). I didn’t have a ruler handy, so instead of running to find one, I used a handy little cheat.
    Gather 2 pieces of scrap cardboard for your Christmas tree base | via barley & birch
    Fold a piece of paper in half – place in the center of your cardboard, then make a dot at the top and bottom, right at the fold. The top dot marks the top point of your tree (the bottom dot will come in handy shortly).

  2. Draw the cut lines for your tree pieces

    Using a straight edge (I just used the cardboard) make lines from the top center dot to each bottom side. These are the cut lines for your trees. Draw triangle cut lines for the tree onto your cardboard pieces | via barley & birch
    We’re going to create two interlocking pieces, so also make a line at the middle halfway up the center of one piece, and halfway from the top on the other piece.

  3. Cut out

    Cut out your tree pieces with a utility knife – parental help suggested for this!
    Cut out with a utility knife | via barley & birch

  4. Paint your tree pieces

    Paint both sides of each tree piece – I chose green paint for a traditional evergreen Christmas tree look, but you can choose whatever color you prefer.
    Paint both sides of each tree piece | via barley & birch

  5. Gather paper scraps or leftover holiday wrapping paper

    You’re ready to decorate your Christmas trees! I happen to have bags of scrap paper, but you can easily cut some up quickly. This is a great way to recycle those leftover bits of Christmas wrap too!
    You're ready to decorate your Christmas trees! | via barley & birch

  6. Decorate!

    Use a glue stick to glue the scrap paper shapes or leftover wrapping paper onto all sides of your tree.
    Use a glue stick to glue on scrap paper shapes or leftover wrapping paper | via barley & birch
    Note: before you turn your tree piece over to finish the opposite side, be sure the glue has completely dried – there’s nothing worse than having your lovely work stick to the paper or desktop!

  7. Step 7

    Make small candles for your tree out of small cardboard rectangles and paper circles + flame.
    Make small candles for your tree with cardboard and paper | via barley & birch

  8. Assemble

    Interlock your Christmas tree pieces and glue on the cardboard candles. “Oooooohh” and “ahhhh” as you gaze on your tree with awe and wonder!
    Interlock your Christmas tree pieces and glue on the cardboard candles | via barley & birch

I don’t know about you, but I feel like this is an instant mood booster! It captures all the joy I feel when I look at our real tree. Like the special ornaments on my own evergreen, each scrap paper piece takes me right back to a memory of one of this year’s b&b projects.

And here’s a hot holiday tip: the simple lines of our festive little pine help to give it a super stylish & classicly modern look, but they ALSO cut down on some extra cutting and measuring. Simplicity is the name of the game this season!

DIY cardboard tree design and decoration inspiration for kids

If you’re in need of a little inspiration, I’ll share a little secret about my own design process…I took my mid-century cardboard tree cues from the colorful aluminum trees in A Charlie Brown Christmas (us Minnesotan’s have a thing for Chuck Schulz). I gather so many ideas and insights from watching animators at work, and if you’re into the process as well, be sure to watch The Making of A Chalie Brown Christmas to catch more of the design details.

Here are a few more cardboard tree design inspiration ideas your kiddos can use to help make this idea their own…

  • CELEBRATE THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS ON YOUR TREE. When I’m working on a project, one of the resources I turn to over and over again for visual inspiration are my bookshelves of childrens picture books. For Christmas tree art planning, I could pour over Brian Wildsmith’s 12 Days of Christmas for hours (click for a sneak peek of a few of the pages over on his site – they’re absolutely GORGEOUS). I love the idea of decorating a cardboard tree with little ornaments or kid-made illustrations of the twelve days!
  • FIND INSPIRATION IN A PICTURE BOOK. Speaking of picture books, there is ALWAYS creativity to be found in the pages of a kids book – our own collection of Christmas Tree picture books is a great place to gather some innovative decoration ideas. Maybe your cardboard tree is decorated with paper cranes or origmai ornaments, home to a zoo-full of animals, or is made to look more like a real tree wtih stamped or papercut branches that immulate the style of a specific illustrator.
  • MAKE IT BIG. Our little tabletop tree is JUST the right size for us this year, but if you’re looking to put together a BIG cardboard Christmas, hop on over to my friend Arielle’s life-sized cardboard Christmas tree DIY over at ART CAMP.
This merry and bright cardboard Christmas tree is a fantastic recycled holiday art project for kids, and a great way to use up scrap paper and wrap! | via barley & birch

Make your own holiday forest and try a few other unique trees! Visit our 3D paper advent tree with pop-in ornaments, or build a cool mini Christmas tree farm out of pinecones!

Still have some extra boxes leftover? Construct your own cardboard snowplow (with a moveable shovel!) to keep the streets around your Christmas tree clear for carolers.

Use a glue stick to glue scrap paper shapes or leftover wrapping paper on to your cardboard Christmas tree | via barley & birch

*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon or Woodpecker Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click-through to make a purchase, we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

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Amanda E.
With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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