5 Fun Ways To Teach Kids About Recycling
Introducing children to recycling at an early age helps them discover the importance of reducing household waste and establishes a habit that will last a lifetime.
When my son Aidan was in preschool, he learned a song that began, “The Earth is our mother, we must take care of her,” and it made a lasting impact. Even at three years old, he discovered the importance of recycling, reusing, and reducing waste. These habits have become second nature for him.
Innately curious, receptive and compassionate, children are sponges when it comes to learning about and taking care of the environment. Recycling is a simple way to begin, empowering them to make a positive difference in their surrounding world.
Here are five ideas that not only teach kids about recycling, but also inspire creativity and new skills along the way:
Turn recycling into a sorting game
Recycling requires basic sorting, which makes this task a wonderful opportunity to turn it into a game. Is it plastic? Paper? Aluminum? Glass? And most importantly, is it recyclable in your area? All plastic containers, for example, are labeled with a resin identification code (RIC) that lets you know which grade of plastic that item is and if it can be recycled. Look at items together to determine whether or not they can be recycled. If it can, hurray! If it can’t, boo! It goes to landfill.
Wonder & Wise’s clever Recycle, Reduce, Reuse, Reward! Game rewards players each time they recycle a bottle or even turn off the lights (saving energy). With each eco-friendly action, they earn a leaf!
Point out what cannot be recycled — items like single-use plastic bags and styrofoam — and work together to eliminate using these materials. You can even ask your child to decorate a canvas bag with fabric markers and take that with you to the grocery store instead of using disposable bags.
2. Repurpose recycling containers
Some items, like cardboard boxes, can be broken down and recycled, but not if they contain food remnants (like pizza grease). Other containers, like yogurt cups, need to be cleaned before recycling, so have fun with soapy bubbles and water before throwing containers into the bin.
After cleaning, see if you can use that container for a crafts or gardening project. Cardboard tubes from paper towels and wrapping paper make excellent pretend swords, magic wands or light sabers, while aluminum cans are ideal for planting seeds with soil before transferring to larger pots. Lidded glass containers can be cleaned and decorated with tissue paper and glue to create “stained glass” jars for collectibles, small treasures or coins. Let your child’s imagination guide the way.
3. Inspire imaginary play
Just as we provide pretend cooking tools and cleaning supplies for our children, we can also introduce toys that inspire children to integrate recycling into playtime. Wonder & Wise’s Live Green Recycling Play Stand and Recycling Plush Play Set inspire hours of imaginary play. The stand features six different compartments for sorting recyclables and pairs perfectly with the 11-piece play set, all sewn from soft linen. You can even store your actual recycling bins behind the stand and hand items you need to recycle to your child and sort directly from there! Let your child lead the way as you make up stories about the plush toys. Who ate the apple? Where’d the fish come from? Who finished the last drops of milk? And what was in that mystery can? Have fun as you sort, pile, arrange and play.
4. Read books about recycling
Build awareness about recycling and the environment through books created especially for kids. Filled with imaginative stories, instructive advice, fascinating facts, and inspiring information, books are an ideal resource. Plus, they’re a great opportunity for parents to learn something new, too!
5. Visit your local recycling center
Take the time to visit a recycling center with your child. The one near our home is a fascinating place — a well-organized roundabout where visitors can recycle everything from standard items like cardboard, glass, paper and plastic to electronics and hard-to-recycle items like batteries and motor oil. Look online for your nearest recycling center and take a look! Seeing everything sorted, piled, and in the process of getting recycled brings this practice to life and will be sure to make a lasting impression.
As you recycle together, you’re teaching your child through example and practicing what you preach — the best lesson of all.
- Keen to continue your sustainability journey with your child? Learn the best ways to go plastic-free and other ways to help save the planet everyday
- About to welcome a baby? You’ll want to read our non-toxic living tips before bringing a newborn into your home