Make: A DIY Lantern for Kids (with Recycled Supplies!)

Ahh, summer nights….don’t ever end! I’m already getting nostalgic over our long summer nights fading into fall, making way for chilly autumn mornings. The hum of cicadas and heavy, slow air makes it hard to leave the porch at night. I just want to sit still and soak it all in, which is how I ended up spending my Sunday night putting together this cool flameless DIY lantern.

Our lit DIY lantern hanging in a flower bed at night.

A little nod to summer camp days gone by, this DIY lantern craft is a super cute upcycled project & kids’ art activity all rolled into one! It’s useful, made from simple recycled items, is kid-safe, and has a fun modern look – basically all of my favorite things. And unlike most paper lanterns, it’s waterproof (perfect for a diy garden decoration)! If you have a peanut butter jar and a  disposable plastic (or paper!) bowl you can make this recycled lantern too…

For a fall twist on easy lanterns, visit our black cat paper bag lanterns for a festive set of DIY paper luminaries that are the purrr-fect front porch decor for trick-or-treat.

To make your own recycled DIY lantern you’ll need:

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

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • 1 Plastic peanut butter jar (with lid)
  • A plastic bowl (paper if you prefer)
  • Scissors
  • 14″ (roughly) piece of 1/4″ cotton rope, wide ribbon, or similar (I used this kind)
  • A flameless tea light (like this)
  • A small velcro dot (like this)

FOR THE INNER LINER:

  • Craft or spray paint (make sure it’s a paint that sticks to plastic – I used spray paint that would hold up outdoors)
  • Colorful tissue paper
  • A large piece of wax or parchment paper (for a large peanut butter jar I used 11″ x 6.25″)
  • A glue stick
A peanut butter jar and plastic bowl sitting on a light blue background

How to make a DIY Lantern from Recycled Supplies – Instructions:

  1. Paint a plastic bowl and peanut butter jar lid

    To prep, you can paint your plastic bowl and the lid of your peanut butter jar a fun color as we did. Let dry thoroughly and set to the side.
    DIY camp lantern instructions
    I used spray paint to coat the plastic bowl and lid simply because it was FAST, easy, and waterproof, but your kids can use paints and a paintbrush to decorate their own.

  2. Cut a hole through the bottom of a clear plastic peanut butter jar and thread with cotton roping or ribbon

    Cut a small (1/4″) hole in the center of the bottom of the peanut butter jar. This is actually going to turn into the top of your lantern. Tie a knot at each end of your cotton roping or wide ribbon. Starting from the inside of your jar, push the center of your rope through the hole. From the outside, pull the center out and pull up to create a handle.
    DIY camp lantern instructions

  3. Cut a hole in the bottom of the plastic bowl and thread the roping through to create a cover for the top of the lantern

    Cut a small hole in the center of the bottom of your plastic bowl. With your bowl bottom-side up, push the handle up through the hole and pull the bull down so it covers your peanut butter jar – now your lantern has a cover! Just a note: I cut off the lip of my plastic bowl to make it look more like an actual lantern cover – you may not need or want to do this depending on the kind of bowl you use. If you notice that the cut plastic has left a sharp edge, you can sand it down with a small piece of sandpaper or steel wool to make it extra smooth for small fingers.
    DIY camp lantern instructions

  4. Add a small square of velcro to the inside of the peanut butter jar lid to keep your flameless tea light in place

    Grab the lid of your jar and a flameless tea light. Put one side of a velcro dot on the bottom of your flameless light and the other in the middle of your jar lid. Now when you want to light up your lantern, you can turn your lea light on, stick it to velcro, screw the lid onto the bottom of your lantern and you’re ready to roll!
    Recycle a peanut butter jar and plastic bowl to create this lovely colorful camp lantern. It lights without a flame, is super-safe for kiddos, perfect for summer nights and a DIY + kids art project all rolled into one!
    At this point, your lantern is ready to use, but we wanted the inside to light up with bright and colorful patterns, so we went ahead with a few extra steps…

  5. Fold a large square of parchment paper in half to line the inside of your lantern

    To create the colorful liner, I started by doubling up a piece of parchment paper (2 layers make it a little stiffer so it will hold its shape in the jar and stand up straight). Measure the height and lid diameter of your peanut butter jar and cut your parchment paper so it will fit inside.
    old a large square of parchment paper in half to line the inside of your lantern

  6. Cut or tear pieces of colorful tissue paper to decorate your liner

    Once your parchment paper has been cut to size, start cutting tissue paper into fun shapes – they can be geometric, organic – anything you prefer! You could also use stamps, draw with crayons, decorate with stickers. or glue on leaves to decorate your liner.
    Cut our tear pieces of tissue paper to decorate the liner of your DIY lantern.

  7. Glue the tissue pieces to the parchment to create a fun composition

    Use a glue stick to glue the pieces of tissue paper onto the liner. You can create a colorful liner using abstract shapes as we did, or keep reading below for more liner decoration ideas!
    Glue the tissue pieces to the parchment to create a fun composition

  8. Roll the liner up and slide it into your peanut butter jar

    When you’ve finished, roll the parchment liner up and slide it into your peanut butter jar. Screw the lid on and you’re all set!
    Roll your liner up and slide it into your peanut butter jar lantern
    For more artistic interest, you could use a hot glue gun to add other decorative craft supplies to the outside of your DIY lantern. I’m a less-is-more kind of person so I stopped at the liner.

I love that we were able to create a fully functional DIY camping accessory from supplies that won’t break the bank and were mostly saved from the recycling bin! I can see a whole set of these being hung up in a children’s garden – their little LED tea lights lighting up the rock-lined garden path at night.

Our DIY kids lantern lit up and hanging in front of a dark blue background

More ways for your kids to decorate their flameless DIY camp lantern…

The bright bold shapes on our lantern create a colorful glow, but there are also so many ways you could decorate this to reflect YOU and your favorite things. Here are a few more ideas for adding decoration to your parchment paper liner…

  • Lay the parchment paper over leaves and use crayons, oil pastels, or charcoal to create beautiful leaf rubbings. Cut to size and insert into your handmade camp lantern just as we did!
  • Cut out simple tree shapes from paper and use a glue stick to glue them to the bottom of your piece of parchment paper. When you turn your lantern on, you’ll see a beautiful forest in silhouette!
  • Use paint to make nice big strokes and swashes of all different colors on your parchment paper.
  • Use stamps or stickers to decorate your parchment paper liner.
  • Spell out your name in big paper letters that wrap all the way around your flameless lantern.
  • Use our hammered nature process art as inspiration and smash some natural flower patterns onto the paper liner.
  • Paint the outside with DIY sidewalk paint. Because the paint is washable, you’ll be able to wash off the chalk paint and give your DIY lantern a new look anytime you like with one quick rinse!
  • Use these same instructions with a baby food jar to make a smaller-scale fairy lantern for a bit of nighttime summer magic.
Our lit DIY lantern hanging in a flower bed at night.

This sweet little summer craft is a total winner for camp group activities, art classes, or a kids’ party – it even made this awesome list of DIY camping craft ideas from The Spruce Crafts (also our own list of over 100 summer outdoor play ideas for kids!).

Pair it with our free printable bug scavenger hunt, outdoor explorer pack, or spark-free paper sparklers for an evening outside full of seasonal fun!

For more incredibly fun recycled summer kids crafts, try making a DIY nature explorer kit from a shoebox! Or turn a cardboard box and takeout container into a colorful upcycled bug observation box.


*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, Etsy, or Woodpeckers 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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