One Africa, Many Countries – My Own Soccer Ball

Culture Engineering
Time 45 minutes
Age 7 & up
Group Size 4 or more
Tags Bags, Football, Games,   more...
Recycle South Africa Teamwork

Show how resourceful you can be!

Kids in African countries like South Africa play soccer with the same kinds of soccer balls that children all around the world do. But sometimes leather soccer balls are hard to come by, so some children have to improvise and make their own out of whatever they can find. This activity highlights how inventive and industrious children can be when they may not have all the resources they need.


Gather materials—hand a letter out to parents asking for plastic bags, newspapers, packing peanuts, etc. from home…many families have an abundance of these materials. Be creative—the list above is a suggestion, but there are lots of materials that you can use. Be sure to read the Suggestions section (under “Make it Better”) for tips and ideas.

One Africa, Many Countries – My Own Soccer Ball

Suggested Materials

Miscellaneous “recycled” materials, such as:

  • Plastic grocery bags (LOTS of bags)
  • Newspaper
  • Recycled copier paper
  • Paper bags
  • Twine and other string
  • Mesh onion or potato bags
  • Old t-shirts or other strips of cloth
  • Foam
  • Packing peanuts
  • Rubber bands

Optional Materials

  • Different kinds of tape (duct tape, masking tape, electrician’s tape, etc.)
  • Scissors

Make it Matter

Opening Discussion

Ask your students if any of them play soccer. What do you need to play? What might they do if they wanted to play soccer, but didn’t have a ball? Do they think they could make one that was good enough to play with? Ask your students to make a list of the important characteristics of a soccer ball. Have a planning session with them in which you ask them to brainstorm what they might use to create a soccer ball, then have them gather those materials.

The Challenge

Using recycled materials, create a soccer ball that you can play with!


Make it Happen

Doing the Activity

  1. Before you begin, read to your children My Own Soccer Ball Story, “Challenges, Innovation, Teamwork and Collaboration,” by Paul Waithaka which you can find in this curriculum.
  2. Divide your students into teams of 3 for this activity.
  3. Explain the challenge to your students, and show them the materials they will have to use. See Suggestions (under “Make it Better”) for ideas on simplifying this activity (ex. consider only offering plastic bags and string).
  4. Build your soccer balls! Move from team to team asking them questions about their process, especially why they chose the materials that they did and how they will turn them into a soccer ball.

Make it Click

Let’s Talk About It

After 10–15 minutes, bring your students together away from the materials to talk about what they have discovered. Was it easy or hard to begin making their soccer balls? What have they discovered about the different materials? Does a soccer ball work well if it is really light? How about if it is really heavy? Is it important for a ball to be round? How might they make it as round as they can? Ask if any teams have a design that they can share with the group, and ask them to talk about their materials and how they are creating their soccer ball.


Make it Better

Build On What They Talked About

Have your students return to their construction. They may continue working with their original designs, or start making a new ball. When everyone is finished, gather the teams together to share their finished products. Then, head outside or to a gym to kick the balls around together…and maybe even start a soccer match!


  • It may be helpful, especially for younger children, to only offer plastic shopping bags, string and/or tape as the materials. Once children have made one soccer ball in this manner, you can brainstorm other materials and have them bring those in to try. Make sure to organize materials distribution—this activity can be pretty hectic once it gets started!
  • In many countries in Africa, some children have scarce resources…something like a real leather soccer ball can be a luxury for many children. But this does not keep them from playing the game that they love. Kids all over Africa that can’t get a real ball to play with make soccer balls out of tied up plastic bags, banana leaves, strips of cloth and more. If you wish to most closely approximate what children in Africa use to make their soccer balls, plastic shopping bags are the most common material used.
  • Trial and error is the best way to discover how to make these homemade soccer balls, but there are some techniques which are helpful. Many teams may discover that they can create a good soccer ball by using one of the materials as “filling”, and something like the twine or even tape as the “wrapper”. Packing the filling tightly is important, and wrapping the ball in a close-to-round shape also matters. If the ball is not perfectly even at first, it’s OK…kicking it around should smooth it out a bit!
  • After doing this activity, ask your students to list ways in which these homemade balls are BETTER than real soccer balls. In particular, real soccer balls can have holes poked in them, losing air…and then they are no longer useful. But these homemade balls do not have any such problem.
  • Throughout rural southern Nigeria children and young adults can make round balls for soccer, volleyball and other games from rubber-tree sap. These balls are durable and very bouncy but they take a long time to ‘grow’ to a large size by continuously adding more tree sap to the surface. However, since the sap dries fast, the ball is constantly in use at all stages and sizes. These balls start out the size of a ping pong ball for playing ‘catch’ and progress all the way to soccer/volleyball size.
  • As a literacy extension, find a copy of the book “Goal” by Mina Javaherbin. This book tells the story of a young boy in a South African township who wins a soccer ball at school…but he must avoid older boys who wish to take it from him and his friends.
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