Children are always amused when they see a version of everyday things that are scaled down to their size. The Dixie cup, although not made solely for children, is one of those things. For such a small thing, it has a big history being a pioneer in disposable products. It is meant to be used once and then tossed, but here we've come up with five more things you can make out of this humble little paper cup that will last longer than one single drink. First, here's what you need:
A pack of 3 oz. Dixie cups (or any dollar or grocery store brand)
Assorted colored paper
Hole punch (optional)
Dry beans, rice or beads
Pearl head dressmaker's pin
Craft foam (or eraser cut from a pencil or plastic earring lock which has lost its mate)
Wooden tongue depressors or large craft popsicle stick
Since we are using sharp tools and small objects, adults, please use your discretion on the age of the child with whom you share these projects, whether making it or using the finished product. Let's get started.
1. Mini luminaries (tea light holders)
Wrap one or as many cups with your choice of colored paper.* Cut pieces of dark-colored paper into designs and glue onto cup for silhouettes, or poke holes in a pattern with a pin to create the opposite glowing effect. Adults, light the tea light first, then carefully drop into your mini luminary. Only use a tea light candle, otherwise you can use the battery-operated kind. Set on the window sill and show off your handiwork.
2. String-light shades
Wrap as many cups with your choice of colored paper* to make enough shades. Have a pattern: Guide the kids to pick one, two, or three colors. If you decide to have more colors, go for the complete rainbow. You can make it seasonal (pastels for Spring, orange-red-brown for Fall, orange or orange-black for Halloween, red or red-green for Christmas, and so on.) Have rhythm: Attach a shade to every bulb or every other bulb or in clusters of three. Teach the kids about repeating patterns to establish rhythm which our eyes and brain can make sense of, otherwise, your lights will look like clutter. Once wrapped, adults can slit a small cross pattern on the center of the bottom of each cup with a blade. With the string lights off and unplugged, slip a bulb into the cross-cut and repeat until you have all of your cups attached in the pattern you choose. Turn on and enjoy.
Wrap two cups with your choice of colored paper.* Let the kids decorate them however they want with stickers or cut-outs etc. (Got any of those three-hole punchers lying around? Use the punched out circles and simply glue on for a nice polka-dot design.) Let them fill one cup a third of the way with dry uncooked beans or rice. They can use beads as well. Run a continuous bead of glue along the entire rim of the cup. Set the other cup's rim down onto the glue and let dry. You can use Aleene's Quick-grab Tacky Glue or hot glue gun. Work quickly either way and be sure to let it dry completely. Shake, rattle, and roll.
4. Teacup and saucer
To make the teacup handle, trace a key pattern on a flattened out cup or any thin cardboard with a plain side. A circle with a plain strip for the rest of it will work, but if you want to get fancy, go ahead. Cut out a smaller circle inside the circular part with a blade. Use the first cut-out as a template, trace, and cut another one. Glue your two 'keys' together, at the head only; leave the bottom strips open like a book. Glue the strips on the side of a cup's sides. It should already resemble a tea cup at this point. Wrap the cup with your choice of colored paper* making sure the seam starts and stop at the handle.
To make a saucer, cut the sides of a cup into even fringes stopping short of hitting the bottom of the cup. Do your best; no need for measuring unless you are an overachiever. Once your cup resembles a grass skirt, carefully push cup down onto a flat surface to fan out the fringe. Take one strip, bend backwards and tuck into the crook of the next one so it forms a loop around the neighboring strip. Repeat with each one until all strips are tucked in and the cup resembles a flower. Set cup on it as a saucer. Since this is a real cup after all, let the kids can enjoy it with a real drink. Pinkies up and sip away.
Cut the sides of a cup in strips that are slightly diagonal, stopping short of the bottom. No measuring of widths and angles is necessary. Push down the cup to fan out the fringe. Your cup should now resemble a fan. At the base of each 'fan blade', closest to the bottom of the cup, crimp only on one side of each blade. You are merely exaggerating the angle so it catches wind. Look at your fan or google pictures of propellers as an example. You can cover the middle of the fan with a round piece of colored paper or a spiral pattern if you like. Push a dressmaker's pin through the center of the fan, through the top third of a wooden tongue depressor, and through a small piece of thick craft foam. Cut the excess metal off the pin with a wire cutter. Leave this 'fan-pin-foam kabob' a bit on the loose side so the whirl-a-gig spins freely. Lastly, add a bead of strong craft glue or hot glue where the pin is cut at the foam piece in the back of your whirl-a-gig. This fan will not generate energy for Austin, but is sure to generate fun.
*To cover a cup with your choice of colored paper, cut along the side of a paper cup from the rim all the way to the bottom. Carefully cut out the circular bottom by running the blade flat along its side. You will now have a curved piece of paper (which looks almost like a short, stubby rainbow.) Lay flat on your colored paper and trace the entire shape with a pencil. Cut and wrap snugly around a new paper cup. While wrapping, carefully tuck in the colored paper under the rolled up rim of the cup which will help it stay in place. Glue ends down to make a clean seam. Craft away.
Whether you make one or make them all, you will never see the diminutive Dixie cup the same way again. If you're interested in the who, why, where, and when of its invention, Smithsonian.org has an informative article that answers all four. Click here to read the article and learn more Dixie cup deets, including how it got its name. If you have more ingenious ideas, we would love to hear it; comment below and share it with us. Austin has two great resources for educational hands-on activities for kids. Visit Lakeshore Learning which has one location in Austin and Teacher's Heaven which has two Austin locations whose website suggests it's "Not just for teachers."
Be sure to subscribe to Theda's Examiner articles and get craft ideas each month, delivered straight to your inbox. Remember to Like it, Share it, and Pin it. Follow her journal Things My Mother Didn't Tell Me About Motherhood which talks about this mother-of-one's misadventures in parenthood. Her first children's book "Pepipacifoo" is available online.