Before winter break, I always plan to make at least one craft with my students. It can be hard to find a craft that appeals to both artsy kids and those that never want to make a craft. However, I found the perfect activity to use in any elementary grade: Solo Cup ornaments or sun catchers! Not only are they fast to make, but they are inexpensive, too. My students loved to make them as parent or grandparent gifts for the holidays. Keep reading to learn how to make easy holiday crafts with Solo Cups.

Making the Discs

The basic supplies that you will need to make the plastic discs are:

  • Ultra Colors Solo Cups – Yes, use the brand name. Apparently not all plastic cups are made from the same material. If you look for them year-round, you can find different colors. (The white-lined cups do not work as well.)
  • Hole Punch that will fit over the cup lip
  • Parchment Paper
  • 2 – 3 Large Cookie Sheets
  • Oven

Melting Directions

  1. Turn your oven on to 275 degrees F. The cups melt best when you allow the oven to warm up, so turn it on right away.
  2. Line 2-3 large cookie sheets with parchment paper. You can reuse the parchment paper, so once you line the pans just put the parchment away.
  3. Punch a hole in each cup. Be sure you have a hole punch that will fit over the lip of the cup. I had one that was meant for punching paper, and it was too thin. I had to pull out my old hole punch for this. Try to use the largest hole you can, because the hole gets smaller when the cups melt. If you start with a tiny hole, you will have difficulty stringing the discs. Do not forget to punch the holes because the melted plastic is too hard to punch.
  4. Space 6 hole-punched cups mouth down on the cookie sheet and put them into the heated oven. The cups will slip around, but try to keep them spaced evenly so they don’t melt together.
  5. There is not an exact amount of time that it takes to melt the cups. You really have to watch them. The longer the oven is on, the faster it gets. Watch for the cups to melt down into a hump/bubble, then to go flatter in the middle and curl up on the sides. Once the sides begin to curl up, pull out the pan and use your oven mitt to separate the cups and smooth out any large bubbles in the cups. You can’t get them perfectly flat, but patting them with the oven mitt does help to make them more even. (Just be careful not to burn yourself on the hot plastic!)

Prep Suggestion: Have cooling racks or a plate ready. I take the melted discs off the hot pan to cool down. This makes a system where you can move the cool discs into a container, hot discs onto the plate, and new cups onto the pan. It makes the flow a lot faster – which is helpful when you can only melt 6 cups at a time.

Decorating the Plastic Discs

The supplies you gather for decorating the craft will vary depending upon your age group – and your budget. If you are like me, you grab craft supplies when you find them on clearance, so you might already have a lot of things to use. If not, consider how tight your budget is and how independent your students are when you purchase decorating materials. Some ideas are:

  • Cotton Balls
  • Metallic Sharpies
  • Googly Eyes
  • Stickers
  • Glue-on “Gems”
  • Glitter Glue
  • Washi Tape
  • Ribbon 
  • Mini-Jingle Bells
  • Mini-Ornaments
  • Student Photos
  • Construction Paper (Scraps work well!)
  • Yarn or String to Hang the Craft
  • Scissors

These are just some ideas – you may have other things that work! You just have to test anything you want to use. A great place to get supplies is the dollar store – they get all kinds of small craft items in to make ornaments. Anything you can glue on or tie on would work.

Some of these supplies are better suited to older students, but you know your class and what you would trust them to use responsibly. Younger students may need easy options like stickers or things to glue, like the googly eyes and cotton balls. Teachers may want to string the discs ahead of time (or have a parent volunteer do it!)

Even when I did this craft with 5th grade, I kept the Sharpies with me. Glitter glue is fun to use, but it can be difficult to squeeze smoothly. Those two items I would probably make teacher use or at least supervised use. In my class, I put on a holiday film while the kids made their crafts. As they work, I call one student at a time to come up for Sharpies and glitter glue. This allows me to help those that need help and supervise in general.

A favorite item to use is a student picture. The local schools always get little sticker pictures to add to the cum folders, but there are always 1-2 extras. I give students the option of using one of those on their ornaments. (It’s a parent favorite, too!)

Just remember that some kids are really not that crafty. It helps to show students a few example designs. The blank disc can be pretty intimidating for some kids.

If you make this project, I would love to see pictures of the final ornaments! You can reach me by email, on Facebook, or on Instagram. All of those links can be found at the top of this page.

What is your favorite holiday craft to make with students?