Milk Carton Gingerbread Houses – A How To with Freebies!

Dec 13, 2014 | Christmas, December, TpT in Action, Winter | 13 comments

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!


  1. Joanna Schwartz

    Does anyone know if this will work if I make the icing out of confectioner’s sugar and water? Will it be sticky enough or do I have to buy store made icing? It’s expensive!

  2. Judy

    I have been doing this for years. The only thing I do different is to wash the milk cartons and then wrap them in tin foil when they are dry so it is a cleaner surface.

  3. Janell

    This was a lifesaver! Great tips and advice! I was afraid to try it, by after following these guidelines with 5th graders, we had a no-mess experience! Thanks!

  4. Nancy

    You may be able to order new, never been used milk cartons from your milk distributor. We have plastic milk bottles now for lunch but our cafeteria manager can order new, clean cartons from the milk company. We just pay for the cartons. 60 were under $5!

  5. Dawn Machado

    I put the milk cartons in the dishwasher so I know they are clean in case any eating happens.

  6. Mary

    I have done this for many years during our Gingerbread Man unit and you are right, it is a great activity! I have worried about the academics of it and try to emphasize making a 3D shape out of flat shapes. Thank you for the graphing ideas! I always hot glue the milk carton to the plate, they are harder to store ahead of time, but prevents a lot of slip-sliding around! I also make my own glue frosting with powdered maringue, it hardens rock solid! Lastly, I have smaller classes, so this is not a hardship for me, I buy cellophane gift bags and tie them with a ribbon. They can carry them home with one hand and it makes a nice presentation. Have fun with your gingerbread housed this year and thank you for all the tips!

    • Beth Crawford

      Oh my Gosh, Mary, what great tips, THANK YOU. Am I crazy for contemplating doing this with Kindergarteners? I’m thinking just groups of 4, at my guided reading table!

      • Pam Crider

        I do this with 22-25 kindergarteners each year. I usually invite 5 parents in to help- one at each table- and it usually goes really well and everyone has fun. I play holiday music as they work! I also make a baggie of some goodies to eat after they are finished so they aren’t tempted. Depending on allergies of the year – I put in a graham cracker, some square pretzels, mini marshmallows, 5 m&m’s, and a tiny candy cane.

  7. Jessica Keenan

    I teach them to use the icing to “glue” two cartons together side by side…this makes for a bigger space to work with when decorating. We ask parents to send in a pack of oval chinet plates to accommodate the bigger house! Thank you for sharing the freebie.

    • Beth Crawford

      More great tips to make this a feasibly fun project. Thanks, Jessica!

  8. A Fleming

    I hot glue the milk carton to the plate and also the graham crackers to the milk carton. This stops the children from wanting to eat the graham crackers that are directly touching the germ milk carton.

  9. Deldreqka Scott

    We have PTC or room moms come in and hot glue the carton to the plate. They also hot glue the walls and roof. The kiddos only have to focus on decorating. I love your way even more, though! We also attach a poem to the bag that students take home.


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