Can you and your students create a DIY obstacle course made entirely from recycled materials?

We recently took on this challenge and built our Recycle Warrior obstacle course! The goal was to create an obstacle course that students would love to participate in, all while promoting the importance of recycling.

Want to try it yourself? We encourage you to try making any of the individual activities for a gym or field day activity. Or, put them all together for an epic course like we did below!

If you’re starting the year with online learning, encourage your students to do this at home! They can put together a challenge or obstacle course using one or more of the ideas below. Have them share any changes they made, new obstacles, or their best times through the race. It will get them active and thinking about recycling.

The Setup

Check out our Recycle Warrior course in action! The goal of this course was to get kids in the habit of recycling bottles and cans instead of putting them in the garbage. Thus, our START line had a pile of empty plastic bottles. We then timed students as they grabbed a plastic bottle, raced through each obstacle to the FINISH line, and then put their bottle into a recycling bin. Here’s an in-depth look at each obstacle.

1. The Starting Line

Obstacle Course Races Start Line

Every obstacle course has a starting point, and we made ours easy with a recycled cardboard platform with an arrow on top to kick things off. Next to the starting mark, we had a pile of empty plastic bottles that were ready to be recycled. Students had to have one foot on the cardboard platform before the timer could start. Then it was READY, SET, GO!

Make It Simple: You can’t get much simpler than a cardboard platform, but you don’t have to add graphics. Simply write “START” with a magic marker on your own starting spot.

Make It Challenging: Add a trash bin at the start of the race where students have to dig in and find an item to be recycled before they can start. You could also add point values to different bottles if you want to make it a group challenge instead of a time individual challenge.

2. The Leap Pad Challenge

Obstacle Course Races Leap Pad

Create platforms with reclaimed or scrap wood. The goal of this section is to have students leap from one platform to the next, balancing with their plastic bottle in hand the entire time. Decorate the platforms with recycling images or your school colors!

Make It Simple: If you don’t want to have raised boards that students jump to, then simplify it by making it more of a hopscotch concept. In this version, you create squares (you can use cardboard again) that students have to hop to one at a time.

Make It Challenging: The “kickstands” that hold up these boards can be adjusted to make it harder or easier by adjusting the angle. If you are creating a course for older kids, make a couple of them more challenging!

3. The Over-Under Race

Obstacle Course Races Over Under

Recycled materials make up the entire over-under challenge. The cans are the posts, and the bar across the top is made from plastic bottles. We just glued them all together to make them secure. To help hold it into place, we used two-liter bottles filled with sand. The bottles across the top balance gently on the cans, so they will move if students brush up against them. This adds to the fun, though! If someone knocks one off, you can decide to deduct points or add on to their race time. (We think a five-second penalty works.)

Make It Simple: If you don’t want to through the trouble of creating this yourself, maybe turn it into a challenge for students instead. Whenever they come across this section, make it where they have to stack a set of cans three feet high (without falling) before they can move on.

Make It Challenging: Add more over-under options and make some of them really low or high.

4. The Balance Beam

Obstacle Course Races Balance Beam

Here’s another one you can make with reclaimed materials. Keep it safe and secure, but you can use a fallen log or pallets to create this for your obstacle course.

Make It Simple: If you’re not able to find materials to make a true balance beam, then create something on the floor using tape! If you do this, be sure to make the lines challenging, maybe even weaving in and out a bit, so students have to follow along closely.

Make It Challenging: We made a little bit of a challenge to this one here by adding different levels that go up and down. To make yours even more challenging, increase the height a bit or have greater levels of difference from one section to the next.

5. The Roundabout

Obstacle Course Races Roundabout

The roundabout can be done in so many ways. It’s basically a way to bring in a challenge where students have to weave from one section to the next.

Make It Simple: Instead of using recycling bins, as we did here, just throw out some hula hoops that students have to weave in and out of. You could also set up hula hoops that students have to run through (think tire course), one foot after another.

Make It Challenging: Make your roundabout area tighter and add even more things to weave in and out of! This way students will have a lot more to get through.

6. The Cardboard Tunnel

Obstacle Course Races Cardboard Tunnel

Every school can find extra cardboard to use. This cardboard tunnel is made of several different boxes to give students a section to crawl through. Remember, students still have to be holding their plastic bottle. Attaching all the boxes together really makes it challenging (and fun) for students.

Make It Simple: If you don’t want to attach all the boxes together, then don’t! Instead, just open up big cardboard boxes and have students crawl in and out of them. You could even set them up so that students have to do a little more weaving.

Make It Challenging: Really make students work for it by adding on sections and twists and turns. It’ll take a lot of work to set it up this way, but it’s definitely worth it!

7. The Finish Line

Obstacle Course Races Finish

Every good race has a good finish. Since we wanted to spread the message of how important it is to recycle, we put a recycling bin at the end of the course. After they made their way through the tunnel, students dunked their bottles into the bin. By having one with a small opening, like the one pictured here, it even added a bit of a challenge to the end!

Make It Simple: You can set up a classroom recycling bin at the end or even a paper sack. It really can be whatever you have. Just make sure students know that the items will go to the recycling bin at the end!

Make It Challenging: Maybe you don’t want it to be as simple as putting a bottle into a bin. Perhaps you want to ask students a trivia question or make them do a dance move first! This last part can really be as simple or as involved as you want. Have fun with it!

Make recycling a priority for your students by getting involved in PepsiCo’s Recycle Rally school program. Also, if you’re looking for more ideas for creating treasures out of recycled materials, check out this monster recycling bin or this trophy made from a plastic bottle.

How to Make a DIY Obstacle Course From Recycled Materials