Updated on 09.17.14

15 Fun Activities For Kids That Are Cheap!

Trent Hamm

One of the absolute best frugal ways to have fun with your kids is to pick up an “end roll” of paper from the offices of your local newspaper. When a newspaper is printed, the paper that it’s printed on comes in a large spool – imagine your toilet paper roll, except the size of a newspaper and much, much larger. The paper rolls off, is printed on and cut, and is folded to make the newspaper that you read.

At the end of a newspaper print run, quite often some of the spools will have a small percentage of the paper still on the roll, unused. Because it’s more expensive to have to stop the press and change the roll mid-printing, the people running the press will just remove that mostly-used roll (still with hundreds of square feet of paper on it) and replace it with a full roll, so that the next time the press fires up (for the next day’s paper), they won’t have to stop it early on to replace the roll.

So what do they do with those leftover rolls? They hand them over to their front office, which sells them to the public for just a dollar or two. Seriously – stop by the office of your local newspaper and ask about end rolls. Most newspapers sell them, and what you’ll receive is a large roll of blank newspaper for just a dollar or two.

And that, my friends, is one of the best bargains around for entertaining your children. Hundreds of square feet of biodegradable newspaper is an incredible resource for letting your family’s imagination run wild.

Here are fifteen great ways to transform that $1 end roll of newspaper into a creative and fun activity for kids and the entire family. Even if you don’t have kids, read through these – you might find some useful and inexpensive ideas of your own, like making a pinata for the child of a friend or helping out big time with gardening.

1. Drawing.
This is the “obvious” thing that most people buy end rolls of paper for. You can cover the entire kitchen table or coffee table with the paper and let everyone’s imagination run wild. Not only does newspaper allow for an enormous canvas, a roll of newspaper allows for many such canvases.

Open paper airplane design by vivekkhurana on Flickr!2. Paper airplanes
A big pile of paper? Some scissors? Several paperclips and maybe a penny or two? You have everything you need to build some awesome paper airplanes. Not only can this be a lot of fun, it can teach you a lot about engineering and physics. How does the plane balance itself? What’s the best kind of plane you can build? Here are some great blueprints for dozens of paper airplanes – I particularly like “the dragon”. You can also color and design the planes if you’d like – I made one when I was young that looked kind of like the Red Baron.

3. Paper dolls
This is a great idea, particularly if you have a parent with some artistic skill. Just draw a simple person on the paper with good dimensions, then let the children color the clothing and the person. If you don’t have artistic talent, you can always go find some simple patterns to download and trace them. If you want, cut them out and play with them. My grandmother used to do these drawings all the time for my niece – she could just sit down with a pencil and draw unbelievable fashion models freehand in just a minute or two, which made for great paper dolls.

4. Paper mache
With so much paper, you’ve got a perfect opportunity to learn the basics of sculpting and to make some interesting items (like a pinata). All you need is the newspaper cut in strips, a good-sized balloon, some paste, and some paint to paint up the finished product. Just coat the strips in paper mache paste, put them around the inflated balloon leaving one end just open enough so that you can put goodies inside, allow the sculpture to dry for a few days, then pop the balloon and put goodies inside. Then, put paper mache over the opening and allow that to dry. Paint it up and you’ve got yourself a homemade pinata. You can also sculpt other things with paper mache with some creativity – try a Viking helmet, for example.

5. Paper ponchos
This was something I did in school in second grade, actually. We took large pieces of newspaper, folded them in half, and cut out a neck hole along the fold to make a poncho, as depicted here. Then, everyone can get involved in decorating the ponchos in interesting designs. I remember making mine look like a giant Canadian flag (even though I’m not Canadian – I was a quirky second grader).

6. Pencil-and-paper games
There are lots of little, simple pencil-and-paper games that two (or more) players can play – tic-tac-toe is just the start. Hangman, dots-and-squares, and sprouts were among my favorites as a child – and I still play them on occasion. These are excellent little ways to get your brains thinking.

7. Paper hats
Big sheets of newspaper beg for some neat paper hats. Once they’re done, you can decorate them however you wish – paint it all black and put a skull and crossbones on it to make your child a pirate, for instance, or make it purple with yellow stars and moons.

8. Creative writing
For me, at least, a big sheet of paper is an excuse to write. I’ll just start writing something if I see a big sheet of blank paper, and it’s a great thing to encourage your kids to do as well. One good idea if you have three to six kids is to spread out a big sheet of paper on a table, and then have each of them start writing a story. Then, every two minutes, have them rotate to the left one spot and continue the story. After several rotations, stop it and then read all of the stories out loud – they’re usually quite entertaining. I actually got really into this with a childhood friend – we had a notebook that we wrote this long, elaborate story in. I would write one page, then pass it to him. He’d write the next page, and pass it back. Incredible fun for a very long time.

9. Room decoration
If you’re making all this interesting stuff, why not use some of it for room decoration? Spread out the paper and make drawings and other items specifically to decorate their room. Cut out colored shapes, make interesting pictures, and anything else you can think of. Collages made out of magazines can be great – in fact, I’ve started saving some magazines in a tub down in the utility room just for this future purpose (so they have tons of magazines to harvest from).

Blue Snowflake Closeup by LollyKnit on Flickr!10. Origami
There are so many interesting designs and items you can make through paper folding (and a bit of cutting). I actually get into this quite a bit around Christmastime, as I love making three-dimensional colorful paper snowflakes that really look gorgeous. You can make much simpler paper snowflakes as well, and designs for any other holiday, as well as paper flapping birds, paper frogs that hop when you tap them on the back, and so on.

11. “Friendship” posters
If you have a group of your child’s friends over, make some friendship posters that each child can keep as a memento. Roll out a big piece of paper and have all the children work together for a while (ten to fifteen minutes) on a poster, then repeat so that each child has one to take home. Let the child whose poster it is pick some of the main colors. It’s a great (and cheap) way to create a memento.

12. Paper boats
Going out on the water somewhere? Have your child make their own paper boat out of newspaper and let them set sail with it. Since newspaper biodegrades very quickly, it’s not disastrous if you lose the boat, plus it’s a lot of fun on water. If you want the boat to last longer, rub some wax (just use a candle) on the bottom of the boat to increase water resistance.

13. Seedling pots
Like to garden? You can easily make small paper seedling pots out of newspaper, so that you can just fill each pot with a bit of soil and a seed. Then, you can just go plant the entire seedling pot when the garden is ready and spring has arrived – since the paper will biodegrade, you can just drop the whole seedling pot in the ground. I know many gardeners who do this out of hand anyway, as it’s cheaper than most ways to start seedlings. Plus, you can use the newspaper (with some straw) to cover much of your garden, keeping the weeds under control while still being completely natural.

14. Paper gifts
On the most basic level, you could simply use this end roll paper for wrapping gifts, then allow your children to decorate it. But you could easily go even further than that, using the newspaper to make your own paper – and then use that paper for greeting cards or handmade journals. These can be awesome gifts for anyone to make for someone else.

15. Silhouettes
Roll out a piece longer than your child on the floor, then have your child lay down and trace their outline. This can provide a brilliant canvas upon which to draw, as your child may want to make a self-portrait. You might also get a kick out of making one of these every year and “stacking” them by gluing last year’s silhouette to the front, creating a progressive view of your child’s growth for a wall hanging.

Awesome! How can I get started?
All you need to do to get started on these projects is call your local newspaper’s front office and ask if they sell end rolls of paper. Most newspapers sell small rolls for $1 and bigger rolls for $2 or $3 – and they’re happy to get rid of them. Once you have the roll, take it home and keep it in a closet – and break it out on a rainy day (or any day) for a lot of fun.

A final tip: the tube in the middle can itself be a very fun toy.

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  1. Trent,
    I actually have a friend who works at a Newspaper and provided some of these end rolls to me the last time I moved. Because they have no ink on them, they make great “packing” paper for stuffing boxes and wrapping fragile items when moving – all without the worry of ink staining or smudging the item.
    Just thought I could add one more use to the list!

  2. BonzoGal says:

    My mom used to bring home old computer print-outs and we’d make “books” out of them by stapling or stitching the pages together. Then my brother and I would write or draw in them. We made our own comic books and scrapbooks.

  3. Damask says:

    My dad is a meteorologist, and one place he worked printed out reams of weather charts on that old extra-wide, green-and-white striped printer paper. He’d bring it home, and I’d have more fun playing with that paper; either drawing on the back, or pretending the funny weather markings were myriad of different things, than anything else. They were magical incantations, secret code from the Russians, or maps of Middle Earth. It was the best when the pages weren’t separated; then you could flip thru it like a book. The feeder strips were great to fold together in long chains to tease my sister with. I miss those old weather charts. :o(

  4. I wouldn’t be an animator now if my dad hadn’t constantly brought me back single-sided scratch paper from his work (I’d scour through the piles for the completely blank pages), when I was a kid in the Philippines.

    I highly suggest all of these, but recommend trying most of them out on pieces of junk mail, or old phone books, if they’re stuff that don’t need blank pages. The less clutter you can bring into your house, the better.

    I’ve recently started saving anything sent to me that had blank back pages to use for writing down notes and directions, in the hopes that I would never need to buy post-its and notepads again.

  5. I don’t have any children yet, but I think my husband and I might have fun with some of these ideas! Thanks.

  6. journeyer says:

    These are great ideas. We’re always looking for cheap ways to amuse our kids. What’s even better is these ideas get the kids’ imaginations working as well. Fantastic!

  7. Chris Clark says:

    My Mom got one of these for me when I was a kid. I didn’t have any brothers and sisters and I don’t know if it was a big roll or what but it lasted from my earliest memories until I was about 8. I loved to just lay on it and draw big pictures. Or make big, floor sized “maps” with roads and buildings to play cars on. I would sometimes go 3D and make my buildings out of cereal boxes and such. Either covered with paper and decorated or, in the case of cereal boxes my Mom would take them apart and put them back together inside out.
    I will definitely be checking it out when I have kids and may even go get one for my nephew.

  8. Lurker Carl says:

    That’s really great, basic stuff is always the best entertainment and terrific imagination builders. Kids have more fun playing in a big empty box than playing with whatever came in it.

  9. Chris says:

    the tube is civilization

  10. Ray says:

    Ooh, thank you! I hope they do this in my country as well. I’ll check :-D

  11. Jill says:

    Thanks for the ‘new’ ideas, as well as jogging my memory on some others :)

  12. Wonderful back-to-basics article! Creativity never gets old and sadly there is too much technologically hyper children nowadays. You gave some really great suggestions that take me back to the old, fun days of just being a kid and not having to worry about finances!

  13. wonderful back-to-basics articles for parents and kids alike. So many kids are too technologically hyper and it’s ideas like this that keep creativity at the forefront of families! Great job and thanks for the followup tips on what to do with the paper!

    nice job!

  14. Sorry for the double post – I thought I lost the first one I typed…apologies!

  15. I love these ideas, especially the ponchos! The real trick is finding a newspaper that has its own on-site printing press… there are fewer of those nowadays.

  16. Ryan McLean says:

    Awesome post,
    really cool ideas and really fun. Great post for anyone looking to save some money and have some fun while doing it

  17. Daizy says:

    My dad brought those end rolls home for us when I was a kid. We made giant welcome home banners for him when he came back from business trips. It was a lot of fun. We decorated it and used it for wrapping paper too.

  18. Nienke says:

    I also suggest a box of Lego. It’s quite expensive when you buy it at a toy store, but you can find it at second-hand shops. The great advantage of it is that you can build with it forever + it lasts forever. I think it makes a great Christmas present. It’s ‘luxurious’ and kids don’t easily outgrow it.

  19. NorCalRN says:

    Sounds like a ton of fun! Another idea, for just a tad more money, is to bring home a block of clay.

    When we were kids, my dad would buy an entire block of potter’s clay for us to play with. We made clay airplanes, simple animals, boats, cars, people, our names…. it was endless source for our creative outlet! And it lasted a long time, too!

    Great post Trent- brought back some great memories and gave me some new ideas!

  20. Ben says:

    I’ll have to check out my local newspapers for these end rolls. The link in #6 paper and pen games was very useful – particularly with school holidays comin up in my part of Australia. I hadn’t thought about “dots-and-squares” for a good couple of decades. My oldest son started school this year and he’s right into drawing and writing on paper. He has also discovered board games through his after school care – which suits me quite fine because I loved board games as a kid, even though I don’t have any siblings.


  21. adam says:

    Newspaper also works great for cleaning windows! It doesnt leave streaks like paper towel does!!

  22. STL Mom says:

    Oh, the tubes are even more fun. Marble runs, telescopes, swords, blowpipes, etc. My kids are furious if I ever throw away a cardboard tube.

  23. Chan Bryson says:


    My grandparents lived out of state & we would visit once or twice a year. Your end roll welcome home banners reminded me of the banners my grandmother would make for us, only she used the rolled vinyl window blinds. She would get the leftover pieces from the hardware store when people had the blinds cut to size.

  24. Oh, my kids would love that! I’ll have to check into that with my local paper.

  25. I know many car detailers also swear by using newspaper with windex for cleaning glass.

    And according to an OBGYN I knew who practised in the 40’s, an unopened newspaper which had been through the press (so not really a qualified use for end rolls which don’t go through the press) was ideal for delivering babies into since the paper was sterile and clean from going through the hot press, so long as it hadn’t been opened and read. He used to hop on trains to go to the homes to make house-call deliveries and hospital equipment was at a premium in the rural area in which he practiced.

  26. Amy K says:

    A note on the newspaper pots: I found the directions at the link a little hard to follow. If anyone else did, there are other peoples’ instructions with pictures over at instructables.com

    And, I’m sure, a billion other things to do with newsprint!

  27. Mom is Broke says:

    My small neighborhood newspaper printer sells the rolls for just 50 cents! We tend to share the fun of drawing at holidays and birthday parties. I cover the table in the paper and set out a pack of markers. Even the adults get sucked into drawing on the table.

  28. CD says:

    I checked with the San Diego paper – they don’t sell or give them away anymore…they recycle them. PHOOEY.

  29. Martin says:

    A paper roll of this size would also be useful for creating seamless backgrounds for photography!

  30. Cara says:

    I’m a preschool teacher and we use these rolls all the time! Another use for them is to use the paper as a cover for the table or floor when you’re doing messy projects like painting, gluing, clay, etc… While it doesn’t prevent 100% of the watery stuff from getting through (like watercolor paints), it is great for preventing stains, and since it’s white, you can see a spill right away and deal with it then!

    Great article!

  31. JKG says:

    I used to use the back of my Dads blueprints (he was an architect) and draw huge mazes, very intricate, very long…. I don’t think I ever solved them, I just drew them for the art.

  32. forty2 says:

    http://www.wheredoesallmymoneygo.com: it’s not sterile as newspapers are printed without an ink-setting pass through an oven as there is with “heatset” printing generally done for magazines and catalogs. That’s why the stuff gets all over your fingers.

    Oh and the press is not stopped when the paper roll runs low; a contraption called a “flying paster” is used to splice a new roll into the web so there is no interruption, but there will always be end rolls with some amount of paper still on them.

    4 print geek 2

  33. Jason says:

    Note, this is not just newspapers. Any printer that uses rolls of paper will have end rolls. Other types of presses will have a wider variety of higher-quality papers (since newsprint is bottom of the barrel) I work for a press that prints academic journals and have carried home many end-roles. These are pretty high-quality, pH-neutral, white and off white papers. They are actually too smooth for crayons, but great for most other applications.

  34. John says:

    Wait! Don’t give up on these great paper reuse ideas because you don’t have access to the newspaper printing plant. There is an almost bottomless source of large sized (24″x36″ and up)blank on one side sheets of white paper that you can find in any architectual or construction office — architectual drawings. No one uses blueprinting anymore and electronic drawings have not surplanted hard copies. But they get revised multiple times before a building gets built, and no one can use an outdated drawing. Rolls of perfectly good paper get sent to the recyling bin weekly. Just ask, architects contractors, project managers, are only too happy to give them away because it relives them of the guilt of seeing it go to waste.

  35. Mary says:

    Years ago(20) my now husband and I worked in a bingo printing company. They used to just scrap the rolls, we took them for our kids. He has 4 and I have 2. We did all those things with the kids. We were both going thru a divorce and the kids all had to share a room for awhile. They decorated it and played for hours.Check in local print shops you can get it for nothing. Thanks for bringing back fond memories.

  36. Stephen says:

    My dad worked for a printing company that printed stickers. Aside from the stickers (which for whatever reason, we didn’t really care about), my dad would bring home HUGE boxes that stuff had been shipped to them in. We would attached the boxes together and build huge forts and mazes. Coupled with inside of paper rolls (not flimsy wrapping paper rolls, thick hard cardboard!) and we were entertained for hours on end.

    I have the feeling my kids won’t be that satisfied with out whatever new toy is out in 2015, Wii Brain Implants maybe?

  37. Connor T. says:

    Unfortunately, many of the big newspapers don’t follow the practice anymore. I work for a newspaper, and our arrangement with the newsprint supplier requires us to return the rolls for reuse, and prohibits us from selling the leftover paper to the public. We use about six 1,600 pound rolls a day (more on Sunday), and with the price of newsprint up several hundred percent in recent years, we’re kinda forced to agree to their demands as long as it keeps our costs down.

  38. Anne says:

    I was so excited about this idea that I immediately sent my son to the local paper to pick up an end roll. We’ll be doing papier mache this weekend! Maybe we’ll get good enough to make all our own Christmas gifts.

  39. Blake says:

    I just called the Austin American Statesman about this. Someone is checking into it for me. I wonder if more small town papers tend to do this rather than larger city papers. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

  40. Blake says:

    If you live in Austin, TX, you can get up to 4 rolls free! on Fridays from 10am – 2pm. Call 512-445-3737 and select option 2 for all the details.

  41. Sara says:

    We had a roll like this when I was growing up, but it wasn’t newsprint. It was something far narrower – closer to the width of a regular sheet of paper, but very high quality stuff. We had Ed Emberly’s “Draw a World”, and we would draw a long continuous landscape along several feet of the roll. Good times :)

  42. Sara says:

    Another nice thing about having a roll of paper instead of a pad, you don’t end up having kids scribbling a little on random pages. They can only draw on the part that is unrolled.

  43. kay says:

    or…make home make cat/animal litter out of the paper. Google around for directions. Takes a small amount of work, better for the animals and environment, and is cheap cheap cheap (or free depending where you go).

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