Discovery DIY: STEAM Fun with Paper Towel Tubes! 

Discovery DIY: STEAM Fun with Paper Towel Tubes! 

What do you do with your empty paper towel and toilet paper tubes? Don’t throw them out, upcycle them! We’ve got five ways for you to create, learn, and have some serious fun! 

Science Paper Towel Tube Indoor Herb Planters


Paper towel roll planters are a cheap and easy way to grow small plants and herbs without having to buy flower pots or planting tools. You can grow things for your kitchen such as mint, rosemary, basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, and sage. You can also start other plants such as cherry tomatoes and then transplant them outside as they grow! 

Here’s what you need:

  • Paper towel, toilet paper, or wrapping paper tubes
  • Scissors
  • Reusable washable plastic container (clear would be best, but any container will work)
  • Soil
  • Seeds
  • Ledge near a window 


  1. Cut tubes slightly shorter than the height of your container.
  2. Fill tubes almost to the top with soil.
  3. Place seeds into soil.
  4. Place container on a ledge or table near a window so that they get plenty of sunlight.
  5. Don’t forget to water the plants as needed! 

Technology Paper Towel Tube Phone Speaker


This paper towel tube phone speaker is a great way to amplify sound if your phone speaker needs a bit of a boost. No need to go out and buy expensive bluetooth speakers. This is great for listening to music while playing outside, cooking together in the kitchen, or hanging out in the living room. You can also make the slot bigger for a tablet! 

Here’s what you need:

  • 3 Paper towel, toilet paper, or wrapping paper tubes
  • Scissors
  • A pen or marker
  • Phone or tablet 


  1. Cut a slot the size of your phone or tablet in the middle of the first tube.
  2. Trace a circle the size of a tube opening on one side of the other tubes.
  3. Poke a hole in the middle of your circles and cut toward the outside of the circle in several places. Tip: It’s ok to cut past the circle because the circles can be a bit bigger than the tube so that they will easily fit together.
  4. Push to fold the triangles in toward the inside of the tubes. 

Place the tube with the phone slot inside the circles of the other two tubes. Place your phone or tablet in the slot and dance to your favorite tunes! 

Engineering Paper Towel Tube Scale


This activity is great for learning about balance and weight. You can use different sized items to show how a heavier item may balance with multiple lighter items. 

Here’s what you need:

  • 3 Paper towel, toilet paper, or wrapping paper tubes
  • A disposable straw to hold the tubes together
  • String
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape
  • Ruler (optional)
  • Buttons, coins, washers, or other small items that vary in weight and size 


  1. Poke a hole in each of the two vertical tubes about a half inch from the top.
  2. Poke a hole on each side of the horizontal tube as close to the middle as possible.
  3. Cut a straw to the width of the three tubes (see example below). 
  4. Place the straw through the holes to attach the three tubes. Tip: you can tape the straw to the inside of the vertical tubes if the holes are a bit too big or if the straw is a bit too short.
  5. Cut a piece of string about double the length of a tube. Place the string through the horizontal tube so that string hangs out on either side.

How to make the baskets: To make each basket, you will need 10 squares of duct tape and 10 strips of duct tape. 

  1. Stick two squares together sticky sides toward each other. Do this five times to make each side and also the bottom of the basket.
  2. Secure the sides to each other by using a strip on each corner. Secure the bottom by sticking 4 strips to each side of the bottom and then securing it to the walls.
  3. Use the remaining two strips to make the handle. Tape or tie the handle to the hanging string.
  4. You can also use disposable sauce containers or small paper cups (1-2 oz). If using sauce containers or paper cups, you can make the handles out of tape or string and attach the baskets to the hanging string by tying or taping. 

Now your scale is complete! It’s time to place items such as buttons or coins in each basket to see how many items it takes to get the scale to balance! This can also be a counting exercise or a fun guessing game. How many small buttons will balance with 8 bigger buttons? How many washers will balance with 10 pennies? How many dimes will balance with a rock? 

Art Paper Towel Tube Kaleidoscope


This upcycled kaleidoscope is a fun way to be creative and to appreciate the beauty of your awesome designs! 

Here’s what you need:

  • Paper towel tube or toilet paper tube
  • Bendy straw
  • White paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick (if tube is brown)
  • Markers, paint, crayons, colored pencils, or stickers
  • Shiny/metallic duct tape or aluminum foil 


  1. Cut tube to desired length. You can use a toilet paper tube or you can cut a paper towel tube in half or thirds.
  2. Stick your metallic duct tape to the inside of the tube. Cover as much of the inside of the tube as possible, but it doesn’t have to be perfect because it will still shine! If using foil instead of shiny duct tape, cut foil to the length of the tube and fold into a triangle. Tip: fold the shiny side of the foil toward the inside of the triangle and the dull side on the outside of the triangle for extra brightness!
  3. If the tube is already white, have fun drawing, doodling, painting, or using stickers to personalize your kaleidoscope. If tube is brown, cut white paper to the appropriate size to wrap around the tube and then use a glue stick to glue the paper to the tube. Now you can draw, paint, and create!
  4. Cut two slits (about a straw’s width apart) near one end of the tube. Trace a circle on white paper. Tip: if you used duct tape, you can use the tape roll to trace the circle.
  5. Cut out the circle and make some colorful art on one or both sides.
  6. Cut a hole in the middle of the circle and place the straw through the hole.
  7. Place the straw through the slits you made on the tube.
  8. Turn the straw to see different parts of your creation, and let it shine! 


Math Paper Towel Tube Counting & Math Maze


Count, add, subtract, and multiply with this fun maze! Make your way through the numbers in order or make your own math! Did the ball roll through 6 and then 3? Add them up and try to roll through the correct answer next. Or start at 9 and roll through the numbers backwards! 

Here’s what you need:

  • A cardboard box or plastic tray with an outer edge on all 4 sides
  • Paper towel tubes or toilet paper tubes
  • Marker
  • Tape
  • A ball or object that rolls easily
  • Scissors 


  1. Cut the sides of your cardboard box to the desired height if necessary. Tip: Pizza box lids would work great if they’re clean, just tape the corners.
  2. Cut tubes into smaller sections. You will need 9 total.
  3. Write numbers 1-9 on the tubes. Tip: underline 6 and 9.
  4. Arrange the numbered tube sections in a random order and position and tape them to the base of the cardboard box.
  5. Roll the ball through the maze to make sure it fits between spaces. 

Have lots of serious fun with your math maze and all of your paper towel tube creations! 


So many tubes but so little time? Don’t worry, you can always donate your toilet paper and paper towel tubes to your local zoo! Big cats and other carnivores love searching for treats inside cardboard tubes, and birds use cardboard tubes for perching and play. Animal care experts love being able to provide this type of enrichment for animals.