Recycled Sailboat

Reuse old materials to make your own toy boat.

  • Target Age:  3-5 
  • Subject: recycling, earth science
  • Related Episode: What Goes Up


  • Clean reused materials: small plastic or Styrofoam food containers, lids, trays, and bottle caps, etc.
  • Craft sticks or coffee stirrers (for masts)
  • Colorful magazine pages (for sails)
  • Masking tape
  • Large, shallow basins of water — or use the bathtub
  • Drinking straws (cut in half) and pieces of cardboard


  1. While you collect the building materials, talk with your kids about reducing, reusing, and recycling. Point out the recycle symbol on the bottom of a container and talk about what it means. Let kids hunt for the symbol on other containers.
  2. Build your boat. Provide help as needed as children build their boats. Encourage lots of different designs!
    • Use a larger container as the body of the boat.
    • Tape a craft stick or coffee stirrer pointing up, as the mast.
    • Cut big shapes from the magazines for sails, and tape them to the mast.
    • Decorate the boat as much as you like!
  3. Talk about wind and sail your boat. Ask your kids:
    • Have you ever been outside on a windy day?
    • What did it sound like?
    • What did it feel like?
    • Did you notice what was blowing in the wind?
  4. Have your kids blow on their hands, first making a soft breeze and then a strong gust of wind. Have them demonstrate other ways to make the air move and create wind (waving their hands, fanning the air with objects).

    Put the boats in the water basin or bathtub. Let your kids use wind power to make their toy boats move across the water. Try blowing through straws or fanning with cardboard. What works best? Can they make their boat turn in different directions?

Take it Further

Gather items with holes to use as bubble wands: slotted spoons, funnels, fly swatters, plastic soda can six-pack holders, etc. Wave or blow through the "wands" and look at the bubbles. Ask: How are the bubbles from each wand the same? How are they different? Are the bubbles connected or single? Does the size of the openings in the wand make a difference in the size of the bubbles?

More Ways to Discover and Learn

Look in a Book

  • Let's Try It Out in the Water by Seymour Simon & Nicole Fauteux
  • Sail Away by Florence McNeil & David McPhail


Find more activities featuring your child’s favorite PBS KIDS character!