Milk Carton Gingerbread Houses – A How-To with Freebies!

This activity works well with these resources:

Here you have it.. a how-to on making those fun milk carton gingerbread houses!  It is a fun activity for your students, but requires a lot of little details falling together in order to run smoothly!

Gingerbread houses in our class are an academic activity!  Students will create a graph using counting skills and then use their graph to create their structure!  This free download comes with instructions, a parent letter, and graphing activities!
Whether you do them “academic” or not.. the parent letter included in this download is the first step.  Very simple, just check off 1 or 2 items per child and send it home about a week before.
TIP:  Have the items due the day before you do your houses so you have time to get anything you are missing on your own.  
For a class of 25 you will need (approximately of course):
– 2 1/2 boxes of graham crackers
– 5 cans of frosting (or at least 1 per table)
– 1 paper plate & 1 popsicle stick per student
– various other candies (you can work with what-cha get on the rest)
Next step is to prep it all! I usually do this the day before as best I can.  This is what that looks like:
Collect and wash out your milk cartons!  Personally, I like to write the students names on the bottom of them because of germs, but realistically we have NO EATING POLICY even at home so it really does not matter.  I will write their names in the lunch line before they drink their milk and then have the students put the cartons into a box. So wash them and then let them dry over night!
Next day, staple them shut.  (I used to hot glue but stapling is MUCH faster.)
Next is the graham crackers.  I will portion them out so each child gets 4 squares for walls and 2 rectangles for the roof.
TIP:  Use plates with a ledge on them so they stack nicely with the crackers on them.  (Even though I request paper plates, sometimes I don’t get what I like to use for management!)
Remove all of the wrappers from the candy.  This part is very tedious but very necessary!  You don’t want students with frosting fingers trying to open up candy and you don’t want wrappers all over your floor!
Make bowls or trays of the candy so you can quickly put them on your tables!  Today we used party trays but this changes year to year in my classroom depending on what is not being used for other things!
TIP:  Peel the lids off the frosting too just so it’s one less thing you have to do when the kids are in front of you!
Lastly, store your supplies in a place where your students won’t touch them!  Below is everything we need to make our houses! {Don’t judge, just keeping this picture real!}
TIP:  Use butcher paper on your tables so you can quickly roll up and discard your mess!  
Now it’s gingerbread house time!!!  Stay calm!!!  You got this!
TIP:  MODEL, MODEL, MODEL!  I make a full gingerbread house on the carpet before the kids start!  
I also have a couple rules that are VERY IMPORTANT to me:
1.  NO EATTING THE CANDY.  Includes licking fingers.
2.  NO walking around with your gingerbread house.  Raise your hand if you need me.  Even when you are done!
3.  Only take the candy you need, don’t pile it up at your desk.
4.  You may not wash your hands until you are done.
5.  Not so much a rule but a direction on what to do when they are done (i.e. read a book in the library, a certain worksheet, or whatever the task is for that year.  You want them away from the tables because that is where the candy is and it’s SO tempting!)
TIP:  Have wet paper towels at each table ready for them to wipe up their hand a little bit as they go.
You are ready to get started now.  First, use frosting to secure your milk carton to the plate.
TIP:  Frosting is glue – say that with the kids.  Put the frosting on the carton and press onto the plate!
Next you apply your walls (not your roof just yet.)
Frost the sides all the way around.
TIP:  Too much frosting cannot hurt, but too little will not hold the crackers.  
Affix the crackers around the edge.
TIP:  You don’t do the roof because then you can use your fingers to help press those walls on more securely!
Then you apply your roof!
There are two ways to apply the candy.  Each year I do something different and, truth be told, frosting will be everywhere so there really is no less messy way in my opinion.
Theory #1:  Apply the frosting to the wall and then affix the candy.
Theory #2:  Apply the frosting to the candy and then press onto the gingerbread house.
And there you have it!  When they are done they RAISE THEIR HAND!  A parent or myself will come to them and bag their gingerbread house for them.  Sometimes we use Zip-Loc bags and sometimes we use grocery bags.
TIP:  Place the children’s gingerbread house on their chair when they are done.  This way they will not play with it, it will be off the table for clean up, and they will not try to come to their seat and eat the candy when they are supposed to be working.  
I alway snap a picture of the kids with their house and graph before we bag them up!
Only other thing to discuss with kids is how to carry it home!  Two hands the whole way home!!!  And remember, NO EATING IT even at home!!!  (It’s an old milk carton that is not really sanitized; just not a good idea IMO.)
Now, let’s be real for a moment!  You will have frosting on your eyebrows, you will want to take a shower when you get home, and you will want to eat an apple because the smell of sugar will have got to you by the end of the day!  This day will exhaust you but it will 100% be one of your favorite days of the year (and your students)!
ONE LAST TIP:  Wear an apron and jeans if you can!  
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Would love to hear your tips!  If you do anything different please share in the comments below!
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