School Wide Bottle Cap Mural Project

7 Feb

School Wide Bottle Cap Mural Project for kidsI am so excited to share the culmination and process behind 5 months of hard work to create this Bottle Cap Mural!  This mural project is an amazing example of how capable children are given the opportunity to express themselves in new and innovative ways.  I am so proud of the 208 students who collected over TEN THOUSAND bottle caps, caps that otherwise would have gone into the trash, to create this incredible ocean mural.   There were so many valuable steps involved, all of which I will discuss here.  I couldn’t have done this without the help and encouragement of my boss (THANK YOU RACHEL!!!) and our school community.  I also relied heavily on an incredible book called Bottlecap Little Bottlecap.  I am so grateful to the author, Michelle Stitzlein, who made this all seem so doable.  It really is!!!  If you are a teacher looking for ways to encourage your student’s to help the environment, learn new skills, take on a challenge and build community, this is an amazing project!  I hope you enjoy reading about it.

School Wide Bottle Cap Mural ProjectWe learn about oceans as a school, so an ocean theme to our mural felt like a natural fit.  First every student in our school had the opportunity to brainstorm ocean ideas and sketch them out on regular 8.5×11 paper.  I kept ocean books on the drawing table to inspire kids and give them ideas.  We collected all the sketches and combined them into one big ocean design.  I tried to use as many ideas as I could so kids would look at the mural and say “Hey, that’s my idea!”   Fortunately, my intention worked.  So many kids felt responsible for each design detail of the mural.

school wide bottle cap mural projectWhile we designed, we also counted and sorted.  Our school ranges from K-6.  It was fascinating to see that the sixth graders enjoyed the sorting and counting process as much as the kindergartners.  We reused plastic bags collected by teachers over the years to sort the caps.  I had collection boxes for caps spread out throughout the school.  The first week of the project I would lay in bed at night filled with anxiety.  “What are we going to do if we don’t collect any bottle caps?  I’m going to lose my job!”  Then I got to school Monday morning and almost all the boxes were filled to the brim!  This was in ONE WEEK.  It took us two months total to collect over 10,000 caps of all different sizes, shapes and colors.  If there is one thing I learned from this experience, community is a powerful thing.

School Wide Bottle Cap Mural ProjectOnce we collected and sorted all the caps, we had to get the art onto the wood panels.  I had bought three 4×7 wood panels at our local lumber yard.  This was a little pricey, but it was the only cost of the project in addition to the screws.  You might get lucky and have a connection to a lumber yard, or hardware store.  I got a great discount at the lumber yard just by telling them I’m a teacher.  Thanks Anawalt! First, we painted the panels white.  Different classes got to do different tasks.  Not every class got to paint.  Every student did get to drill, but we’ll get to that in a bit.  After we painted the wood white and let it dry, we propped the panels up against a wall and projected the kids art up on the panels.  This was a little tricky, getting it to fit just right, but it was more for the experience than anything else, so I felt ok going in after and fixing any areas that needed fixing.  We had kindergartners and first graders tracing the projected art on the panels.  It felt so Reggio and so right.  I think this may have been my favorite part of the process.  I can get high just thinking about it.  It was really cool.

School Wide Bottle Cap Mural Project for kidsThen we painted.  We used regular tempera paint.  The kids talked about what colors worked best for different areas.  They stretched their bodies over the wood boards to get every last spot.  They collaborated and communicated.  They laughed and relaxed.  Painting took us almost two weeks.  At first we were going to leave the boards white, but one of our amazing parent volunteers, who is also an artist, really encouraged us to take the time to paint and I’m so glad she did.  This was a really worthwhile step in the process and it made the mural really pop.  Some kids wanted us to leave it just as a painting because it looked so pretty.  To be honest, I was a little scared myself it wouldn’t look as good once we added the bottle caps.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

School Wide Bottle Cap Mural ProjectNext step, and perhaps the most highly anticipated step, was the drilling.  Wow, was this fun.  Every student from kindergarten to sixth grade learned how to operate a power drill safely under a teacher’s supervision, as well as many incredible parent volunteers.  They all did it and they did it well.  There is a lot of discussion online about kids and tools.  I am a huge advocate of children working with tools.  I think children are capable way beyond our expectations and if we raise the bar for them, they will pole vault over it.  I’m so proud of these kids.  We did not have one accident.  If ever a child was being silly with a drill, they were asked to sit aside, but really, it was few and far between that that even happened.  They were mesmerized, excited, curious and engaged.  They were also really surprised over how easy it was to do.  If I’m being really honest, I had never used a drill before this project. (AHH! Don’t tell my boss!)  I was really surprised too and now I am totally hooked.  I am asking for a tool belt for my next birthday! (A really nice natural leather one, Ev, if you’re reading this.)

School Wide Bottle Cap Mural ProjectSo we drilled.  And we drilled and we drilled and we drilled.  For 3 months we drilled.  Then we were done.

School Wide Bottle Cap Mural ProjectTo say the mural is gorgeous, to me,  is an understatement.  It’s magnificent.  It exudes joy, innovation and creativity.  It even sparkles in the sunlight!  Our nursery school classes have been taking mini field trips to our yard just to see it.  They talk about perspective and artist’s like Claude Monet.  They talk about pointillism.  They discuss recycling.  They ask questions.  They make comments.  They touch the mural and wonder who knows what.  This is the part I didn’t think about.  The part that keeps going.  This mural belongs to the children.  It’s theirs, from start to finish, though it’s really never finished.   It keeps living and breathing in these kids and I am so very proud of them for accomplishing such an awesome task.  And, if I’m being really honest, I’m pretty proud of myself too for being a part of it.

School Wide Bottle Cap Mural Project for kidsIf you have any questions that I didn’t answer here, please don’t hesitate to email me.  I’d be happy to talk to you.  Thanks for reading along!

35 Responses to “School Wide Bottle Cap Mural Project”

  1. Anik February 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    This is so fantastic and beautiful! Great job!

  2. Stephanie Haass February 7, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    This is just BREATHTAKING! I’m so proud of you, Meri! I totally get how you could get high just thinking about the process. It’s something that you and all the kids will remember forever, and they are so lucky to have you as their teacher!

    • Meri Cherry February 7, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

      Thank you for taking the time to read my post Stephanie! It was a really special experience. Thank you!!

  3. Two Striped Cats February 7, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

    Wow, this is absolutely amazing and beautiful! Thank you for sharing. I already collect our own bottle caps for a future smaller scale project I’ve had at the back of my mind. But you’ve inspired me to take it further, to my daughter’s school. Just wonderful!!

    • Meri Cherry February 7, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

      Oh, that’s wonderful! I can’t recommend it enough and you can do it on any scale that’s suitable for your community. Have fun! I’d love to see pics when you do it!

      • Two Striped Cats February 7, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

        Thank you. I’m already thinking about discussing it with the school principal next week. Will be sure to send pics of whatever eventuates!

  4. Dee February 7, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

    This a fantastic project! May I ask what inspired your idea? This is an example of how art can teach those higher order thinking skills that Common Core requires AND it was FUN! Congratulations! I cant wait to try this! Thank you for posting.

    • Meri Cherry February 7, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

      Oh, I love hearing this Dee! Please keep me posted if you try this out at your school and if you have any questions at all. I had seen pictures of bottle cap murals on pinterest and just thought they were so beautiful. When I did some investigating I found there was a book on how to do one with your school and ordered it. Fortunately I have a very open minded boss who gave me the green light on the project. I am very grateful. It’s an incredibly worthwhile experience.

  5. bar February 7, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    i am so in awe of you, meri. this was such a beautiful post and the mural is so incredible i just can’t believe it!! i love the feeling of community and pride that you gave your kids. they are so lucky to have you.

    • Meri Cherry February 7, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

      Crying reading your comment. Thank you Bar : )

  6. Lynda Appuhamy February 8, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    Brilliant idea – have shared on my facebook page

    • Meri Cherry February 8, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

      Thank you so much Lynda. I appreciate you spreading the word about this amazing project. So proud of these kids!

  7. Suzanne Gelfound February 9, 2014 at 12:20 am #

    I don’t even know what to write…this is amazing. Every vision that you seem to have comes alive with incredible beauty and a passion that make us all ( or at least me) go out and do something that makes a difference. You should be so proud of the difference you are making to your school, your kids, and all the people who will look at this project and will also want to make a difference! You always teach people to be up for a challenge:)

  8. Lara February 9, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    How incredibly inspiring and absolutely gorgeous! Well done! This is definitely a project I’d love to do when I get back in my classroom! In the meantime I might have to think about a mini mural in the garden with my kids. Although it might take us a good while to amass enough bottle tops. Again, well done!

    • Meri Cherry February 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

      Small Scale is great too! Go for it!!!

    • Meri Cherry February 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

      And thank you so much for your kind words!

  9. Gina February 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    This is just sensational! I’m so inspired, I want to make something small-scale at home and have begun to save bottle tops. I’m also going to pass this on to my brother-in-law who’s a Junior High Principal and plant the seed that there must be more! More people like you; more art created; more of this wonderful project spread. Fantastic and I do hope to have the chance to come to see it personally! Bravo!

    • Meri Cherry February 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

      Thank you so much Gina! I am in awe over how many teachers have contacted me with amazing questions, hoping to do something similar at their own school! So exciting!!!

  10. Kathy February 9, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    Fantastic project ..those children learned so much more than making a beautiful mural. Thank you for your time and love

    • Meri Cherry February 9, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

      Thank you so much Kathy! They really did. I think over time I will be able to see more ways this experience enhanced our school community. I’m really excited about it. Thanks for taking the time to comment and read my post!

  11. Kay February 9, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    Wow! So wish I could do this at my school! One question: would hot glue work to adhere the caps? Thanks,

    • Meri Cherry February 9, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

      Yes! Definitely. If you want to skip the drilling you can use glue. I would recommend wood glue over hot glue though. Stronger. Even regular Elmer’s glue would probably work great. Give it a try!!! And if you do, please let me know!

  12. feltsocute February 10, 2014 at 6:57 am #

    I adore this project! It’s amazing on so many levels – your students are lucky to have you!

    • Meri Cherry February 10, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

      Thank you so much for saying so. It was a wonderful experience.

  13. Lisa Wriley February 11, 2014 at 12:52 am #

    Beautiful project – so glad my aunty sent me the link! I work on the campaign to get 10c refunds on bottles and cans across Australia and have a collection of bottle lids at home. Now I know what to do with them! Can your mural be visited? Where in the world is this mural? Bottle lids are such a universal thing and a huge litter problem that your project could inspire people everywhere. I believe that in Germany they have ‘tethered’ lids ie joined to the bottles by a little bit of plastic – this instantly halves the beverage container litter that can end up in the ocean harming our fellow creatures (birds, turtles and whales). Kids could write letters to bottle companies to push for this solution. It is just a matter of designing out the problem.
    People can support the Cash for Containers campaign at We have a 10m banner made with 260 PET bottles drilled and sewn onto mesh in shape of words: 8 BILLION WASTED (how many bottles and cans NOT recycled every year in Australia) – currently in Lismore NSW but can be borrowed by schools..

  14. Pru Thomas February 11, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    That is such a beautiful artwork. I can imagine the students have loved it every step of the way. Powerful and beautiful all at the same time. I would love to do something like this at my school.

    • Meri Cherry February 11, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

      Thank you so much Pru. This is a fantastic community builder for any school and the kids learn so much. If you have the opportunity, go for it!!!

  15. Elisha Wimsatt February 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Wow! I love this.

  16. Valda Mcfarling February 11, 2014 at 11:54 pm #

    I am a 91 year old great grandfather and would love to be involved with my 12 great grand children at our family camp. How could we get started? Just start? Bob McFarling, in Westland, Michigan. Does Acorn Coop school know?

    • Meri Cherry February 12, 2014 at 3:55 am #

      That sounds great! Good for you! Yes, just start collecting bottle caps. Get your whole family involved. You’ll have a ton in no time. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!!

  17. Kate Meade February 18, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    This is beautiful. I have been collecting caps for a year now. Not very aggressively, but we have started. I was glad to see that you used Tempera. Did you put any finish over the paint before starting to screw in the tops? We will have ours outside and I would hate to see the paint wash off.
    Thank you for sharing this. So amazing. This is a great school memory for all the children involved.

    • Meri Cherry February 18, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

      Thank you so much Kate. We didn’t put a finish on the paint. Maybe we should have. AHHH : ) Fortunately, we live in Los Angeles so the weather isn’t so much a factor. I so hope you make your own mural. It’s such a valuable, rich experience for the kids!


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