Do you have a bunch of wine corks laying around? Don’t worry, we’re not judging. Well, they can make great ornaments with a little paint and detail. Recycling materials to make Christmas ornaments is a great way to use materials destined for the landfill in a way that won’t just become a piece of garbage because family will treasure the ornament for years.
First of all, you can buy corks the old-fashioned way by drinking wine, but they are also available at craft or hobby stores. They are not cheap, but if you are organized, you can make requests to your parent community to send in their gently used corks. Restaurants also might be able to help you out. If you have wine drinking friends or student parents, let them know you’ll be collecting the corks in advance of making these ornaments.
It’s ok if there is a corkscrew hole. It actually comes in handy when you want to attach the string to hang the ornament.
If you have been avoiding teaching art because of the mess, you need to read this post we wrote about this very problem.
One cork will make one ornament, so you will need to have at least one cork per student. If you have enough corks, students could make a few different designs.
Corks can easily be turned into snowmen (white paint), reindeer (brown paint), Santa (red paint) or trees (green paint). Add googly eyes, glitter, string, sequins to add details if you have extra money in your budget. If money is a little tighter, just use a permanent marker. Metallic Sharpies can also add lots of bang for your buck. A few students made penguins by added a little orange construction paper (you could use foam, too)
Corks will likely need more than one layer of paint. If you are using Tempera paint, it dries quickly. We recommend painting one day and then decorating the next day.
This project can easily be modified to make ornaments that are not Christmas themed. Students can create characters from books, games, video games or movies. In fact, you can use this craft as an extension of your language arts programs by having students connect their corks to what they’ve been reading.
How to make the different types of characters:
- Snowmen: Paint the cork white and then add details. Alternatively, paint the bottom half white and the top black for a hat. Add a carrot for a nose with a marker, paint or a small piece of orange fabric. You can also add a buckle to the hat.
- Santa: Paint the entire cork red. Add a black stripe at the bottom for boots and halfway up for a belt. Put a white stripe above the black for the trim of the Santa suit. Paint a round circle with a skin colour for the face. Paint a white beard and trim for the hat. Add black buttons or a silver belt buckle. You could add cotton to the beard or a pompom for the hat.
- Elves: Make these just like Santa, but for the face add facial details instead of a beard. Paint the body green or other elf outfit colours instead of red like Santa. You can use a little black to divide the legs or arms and make shoes or boots. Tiny little bells from the dollar store make a nice detail on the hat.
- Gingerbread Man: Paint the cork brown and add details. Use white so it looks like frosting.
- Penguin: Paint the front of the cork white and the rest of it black. Add face details like eyes. Use orange for some feet and a beak. If you are a little better of a painter, create a shape like an eight with the white on the front of the penguin to create the illusion of a head and a body.
- Reindeer: Paint the cork brown. Use pipecleaners for antlers and pompoms or felt for a nose.
We used hot glue guns to add a string to the top. If there’s a hole from a corkscrew, this is a great place to attach the string. Put a little hot glue into the hole then push the string into the hole with a pencil.
Buttons make great feet. You can purchase bags of buttons at the dollar store. Don’t forget about little googly eyes. They are fun and students love using them. They don’t even have to be the same size. This make the face a little wonky, but kind of cute.
Little beads also make good eyes or buttons on the cork characters.
If you are absolutely desperate and cannot get your hands on enough corks, buy a case of wine (just kidding). Consider using other items that are roughly the same shape such as old marker caps from Crayola markers or old lipstick lids. White packing peanuts also work, but they are much trickier to paint (so you’ll end up with lots of snowmen). Anything that has a similar shape will work. Let your students be creative about finding materials that will work for this project.
Lastly, ask your families to save all their corks over the holiday break and then you’ve got a good collection started for next year.
Are you looking for some other Christmas crafts?
We have quite a collection of other Christmas crafts that we’ve made over the years, so be sure to try some of them out.
- Fingerprint Art: Use the little fingerprints of your students to make all kinds of wonderful Christmas themed creations like cards or Christmas tree ornaments.
- Recycled Paper Ornaments: Use leftover paper from newspapers, fliers or magazines to created folded paper ornaments.
- Christmas Word & Logic Activities: These logic puzzles will keep your students busy between craziness of the holiday season.
- Wooden Ornaments: Use some wooden game pieces to upcycle them into new Christmas tree ornaments. This activity comes with complete instructions so you can make the most of it.
- Recycled Can Characters: Collect metal or cardboard cans with plastic lids (like the one’s hot chocolate or coffee comes in) and turn them into adorable holiday characters.
- Recycled Materials: Christmas Wreaths: Create interesting wreaths by using recycled fabric. This is a great way to make a gift and get rid of lots of extra materials.
- Simple Christmas Tree Art Projects We Love: Create easy and beautiful works of art that anyone can do! They make nice cards or just pictures to hang around the house.
- Design a Gingerbread House: Combine math and art in this fun activity that makes a mess and a wonderful creation! This one probably works best if you’re teaching in person.
- Elfbook: A Digital Creative Writing Activity: This activity uses Google Slides and lets your students create a social media profile page as if they were an elf. This one is perfect for distance learning.
- Christmas Art Projects: We designed a creature in a stocking lesson. You can read all about it, or download the free lesson that comes with with. This makes a great gift and is perfect for homeschoolers or smaller classes as there’s some sewing involved.
- If you are looking for a list of books you can add to your classroom to add to the season you should check out out list of Christmas Books We Love. We like to have books for all holidays (and not just during Christmas) so we made a big list for our fellow teachers.
Don’t forget to have your students write their name and the year using a fine-tipped Sharpie on the bottom or back of their ornament so you know who it belongs to.
These recycled cork Christmas ornaments make great Christmas gifts for your students’ families. Wrap them up with some tissue paper and make a card that students can take home with them before the break.
This project is a great one to leave in your makerspace so students can work on it when they have time available. Don’t have a makerspace? Here’s how we started ours.
Looking for some Christmas or Winter activities that aren’t too crafty?
We created some Christmas puzzles and writing activities that you can use in between students working on these types of crafts. These pages work really well when you don’t quite have enough supplies or room for everyone to be creating at the same time.
Some of the activities are writing prompts, logic puzzles, word activities and design challenges in the Christmas package. The winter package includes the same types of puzzles, but they are completely different puzzles and prompts that don’t include any Christmas topics. The winter set is perfect for students who don’t celebrate Christmas. If you own both sets, you own two completely different sets.
If you’re looking for a free sample of the puzzles, be sure to download this free sample from our store.
Are you looking for a lesson you can do that isn’t too Christmas-y? Try our Snowman Heads lesson by joining our email list. You’ll also get access to our Resource Library full of other resources.
We’d love to see your creations. Be sure to tag us on social media or send us pictures. If you created a new Christmas character, let us know in the comments below. We’d love to add it to the list so other people can make it, too.