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Teach Your Preschooler About Recycling

How To Help Your Preschooler Understand The Concept Of Recycling

Let's Save The Earth! Earth 2000. Save the Rainforest! Conserve Energy. Let's Make a World of Difference!

We know and understand the meaning behind these slogans, but does your preschooler understand the concept behind a message like Save the Earth?

When they're younger than age 7, children struggle in a world of fact and fiction. What's real and what's imaginative are constant questions they face. The 3-year-old will be less concerned compared to the 4- and 5-year-olds who are trying to make sense of their world more and more every day. To tell your child, "Let's save the Earth" is a heavy concept, and places a lot of responsibility on your preschooler's shoulders.

Yes, we must save the world. We must protect the land and the animals, but we must also present these concepts in a way that preschoolers can understand. How can we do this? Rather than presenting the environment and its issues in one chunk, it's a good idea to present them in little tidbits.

"At our daycare, we once had 'The Environment' theme, which lasted two weeks within the school year," explains Sofia Z., an early childhood educator for more than 10 years. "We changed that and now we talk about the environment in little doses in our daily routines."

We can't decide, "OK, today I'm going to save the world." It's a continuous effort. It's one that must be talked about over and over again and dealt with on a daily basis.

"We first showed them pictures of landfills and explained that garbage was just piled over and over," Sofia says. "We told them if we didn't stop sending lots of garbage, the landfill would overflow. We asked them to help find ways to reduce or reuse or recycle items for us to be careful of what we put in the garbage."

Jennifer, Sofia's coworker, says: "We introduce questions to the children to make them think of what happens to things once we are finished with different items. We asked them, what can you do with this? Can you reuse it? Can you recycle it? Or can you reduce it? They didn't always get the right answers but eventually we got some right answers and some really creative ones too. We showed them items that can be reused, reduced and recycled and brought it down to their level."

Examples of reusable items are toilet paper rolls, papers written on one side, baby wipe boxes, cork, bottle caps, fabric and paper scraps. The goal is to find new uses for something rather than putting it into the garbage.

"This leads us to ask about reusing food," explains Sofia. "The children thought long before answering but by using a glass fish bowl we showed them how to make compost. We only put in fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells and a few dead leaves from outside and in no time the materials turned into soil. We have a bigger pail to put in the non-meat food scraps and an adult brings it outdoors to our composting bin. When we have our planting theme we use the composted soil and we always have really pretty flowers.

"Reducible items are things we tried to avoid buying or bought in big quantities instead of buying little packages to reduce the mount of garbage. The child understood this with serving containers such as the yogurt containers -- rather than buy 24 little ones, buy four big ones. That reduced the amount in plastic containers. The children also were showed that energy such as running water and electricity were items that also need to be reduced and used only when needed. Lights off in empty rooms, flushing the toilet for no reason and making sure the water was turned off after hand washing were all concepts children clearly understood."

"Using real dishes and real cutlery rather than plastic ones also made sense to them," says Jennifer. "Because they had them on hand and they didn't need to throw them away -- we could wash them and use them again and again."

Recyclable items such as newspaper, plastic, aluminum and glass were separated from the regular garbage and placed in the blue recycle box ready for the weekly pickup from the recycle truck. The recycle symbol was then introduced -- it can be found on the blue boxes and the recycle trucks.

"Our community has the blue-box program," adds Sofia. "Many children also knew this from home. They separated the garbage from the items that can be placed in the blue box and sent to where they can be used again or refilled again."

In their daycare, the teachers have the blue box, a laundry basket for arts and crafts, a garbage pail for the recyclable (plastics/tins/glass) and a small pail with a cover for composting.

"We know what goes where but it's our responsibility to guide the children and ask them questions," says Sofia. "For example: 'Jonathan, what can you do with your yogurt container -- can it be placed in the composting pail? Can it be placed in the paper basket? Can you clean and dry it to place in the plastic basket for arts and crafts or in the blue box?'"

Parents have participated in helping their children reduce, reuse or recycle home items too. Old stationery and office papers were brought in to the daycare for the children to draw on. One child came in with over 20 egg cartons for art and crafts. Twice a year in spring and fall, the daycare has a clothes drive. Parents bring in clothing they no longer can use (especially children clothes). The clothes are set out on tables for parents to go through and take what they can use. The rest of the clothing items are put in boxes and taken to the local parish. A few parents have also benefited from the compost bin.

"Will we save the world?" asks Sofia. "I don't know, but we trying. We are also giving the children tools and knowledge that things do accumulate and we need to think further how we'll use the items rather than filling up our landfills."

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