One of our favorite art camp projects that we made during the first week of summer art camp were these cardboard circus tents. This week’s theme was to join the circus and we made clown masks, trapeze artists, egg roll ice cream, and lots of cheerful bunting. These circus tents were a hit with everyone! They were so proud to take home the colorful circus tents and their parents told me they had been playing with them all week.

I’m so excited finally share this tutorial with you! 

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~ One small cardboard box (about 8” x 8” x 6”)

~ A cardboard paper towel tube

~ An X-acto knife and scissors

Single hole punch (1/8”)

~ White school glue

Colored duct tape

Washi tape

Pipe cleaners

~ Beads (we used pony beads and cut-up paper straws)

Colored paper cut into small squares (for the floor)

Red striped fabric (or paint/color your own stripes on white fabric)

~ Egg carton (cut into individual cups)

~ Tempera paint

~ Several small paint brushes

~ Pom-poms (one large for the top of the tent)


collage of 4 images of cardboard pieces being used to make a kid's craft circus tent


Get your box ready: Cut off the top flaps of the box. Draw arches on all four sides, and cut them out with the craft knife. (See the images above.)

Trace around the paper towel roll on the bottom of the box, in the center. Next cut out the circle on the top layer of the bottom flaps (see bottom right image). Make sure not to cut through both flaps!

Child wrapping waashi tape around a cardboard tube


Punch holes around the top of the paper towel tube with your hole puncher. These will be used later to attach the pipe cleaners.

Here comes the fun! The kids can cover their paper towel roll with washi tape (this is a fun activity even without making the tents!) They can either rip the tape with their fingers, or use small scissors.

cardboard base for circus tent cardboard craft - shown is a tube covered with washi tape and strung with pipe cleaners inside the base


Glue the paper towel roll into the bottom of the box. Leave it overnight to dry.

When the frame of your tent is completely dry, string pipe cleaners through about half of the holes at the top of the paper towel roll. 

Let the kids string beads on the pipe cleaners until they reach the top of the box. 

Next, use duct tape on the inside of the box to secure the other end of the pipe cleaner (we used colored duct tape to make the inside of our tents look as fun as the outside). Continue beading the pipe cleaners all the way around until a roof is formed.

girl gluing little pieces of paper inside a cardboard circus tent


Now it’s time to tile the floor. Gather your pieces of cut paper. Pour some glue into a small bowl and use a paint brush (I like using the ones that come with paint sets) to glue down the papers.

This is optional. You can always just squeeze straight from the glue bottle, but using a bowl and brush makes it easier to reach inside the box, plus kids tend to use less glue.

top of cardboard circus tent craft showing pom pom


Pour a little bit of tempera paint into a few small bowls (I used yellow, light green, pink, and light blue). 

Decide on your roof color and paint the outside of your egg carton cup. Glue the carton cup face down onto the top of the tube. Add a large pom-pom of a different color.

2 steps of craft project showing child gluing fabric onto circus tent

Step 6

Cut out a piece of the striped fabric to fit one side of the box. You can use this as a template to cut three more. 

Cut a slit up the middle of each piece of fabric, making sure to stop just before reaching the top. Glue all four pieces to the sides of your box using craft glue.

Little decorated peg doll peeking out of circus tent curtains


Use small pieces of pipe cleaners to pull back the curtains (I used a regular pipe cleaner cut in half).

Finished circus tent craft for kids with little peg doll out in front

The kids completed this project over the course of three days. They showed up each day so excited to continue their tents! It was a labor of love, but they never got tired of working on them. Between taping rolls, beading pipe cleaners, tiling floors, and cutting curtains, there was enough variety that each new step seemed fresh and exciting.

The wooden peg clowns were made by the kids and my 14-year-old daughter (who was assisting me at the time). They came up with the idea when I was in another room cleaning up. They had found some pegs and added fabric clothes, a giant red pom-pom hat, and a black sharpie face. You can find the materials for these wooden people at any craft store.

Have fun under the Big Top!