We all know how important it is to teach our kids good habits, and teaching them about the environment is no exception. Recycling can be a chore for most of us, but if you can make it fun for kids then they’re more likely to carry it on when they become adults. Here are four ways that you can teach kids about the importance of recycling, while making it an enjoyable activity.
Since most homes have recycling bins, encourage your kids to sort their trash instead of just throwing it straight out. Set up separate boxes in the kitchen for items such as soda cans, magazines or plastics. If you’re feeling artistic, draw cartoons on the side of each box to show which items go where; this can help younger children join in, too. Kids can keep track of their progress with a special chart, and you can set targets as a family to recycle a certain percentage of your trash. Not only does this give your kids a sense of purpose, but it also teaches them just how much waste the average family throws out and encourages them to help cut down on that number in your home.
There’s nothing kids like more than playing with mud, so they’ll love starting a compost heap in the garden and watching it progress. You should have plenty of vegetable peelings, fruit cores and other organic goodies to turn into mulch. You don’t even need to rush out and buy any special equipment––you can build your own composting box or use something like an old trash can with the bottom cut off.
You can then use your compost to grow fruit or vegetables in the garden. Start with something easy, such as tomatoes, strawberries or herbs, although make sure you choose a strain that will grow in the fickle Texas weather. Kids who are picky eaters are often more receptive to trying things that they have grown themselves, and it certainly gives them a sense of pride to see their first crop emerge after all that hard work. Gardening also helps kids to get in touch with nature, teaching them where food comes from and that it shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Donating toys and clothes
Kids can be reluctant to get rid of their old toys. Explain to your kids that by donating their old toys, they’re helping children who aren’t as well off. Children love to be helpful and will often be happier knowing that the toys they’ve outgrown are going to a new home to be loved.
So corral your kids to help clear out their closets. Thrift stores are often happy to receive donations of quality children’s clothes, or you can find a local clothing bank where goods are sent to the third world. Any items that aren’t suitable for donation can usually be recycled, depending on the materials. Search the Earth911 site for a list of local recycling facilities and the items that they take.
What’s old is new again
Kids are incredibly creative, so instead of throwing away those cardboard boxes, plastic bottles and paper towel tubes, turn them into craft projects. (Some elementary schools will even collect these kinds of items for their pupils to craft with.) There are so many projects you can do, and getting creative with discarded items teaches kids the importance of re-using things. As your kids get older, teach them to upcycle clothing and jewelry; they will enjoy making something unique that they can show off.
What’s most important when teaching kids about recycling is to set a good example. Be a conscious consumer, asking yourself how much you really need to buy, and whether your choices are environmentally sound. If children grow up in an environment where they appreciate what they have and are taught to dispose of stuff carefully, then they are more likely to keep this attitude as they get older and hopefully teach these same skills to their own kids one day.
This article was originally published in December 2012.