While children are recognized as important inhabitants of the earth, parents, caregivers, and educators should help them cultivate appreciation and contribute to the sustainability of the planet.
A good place to start will be to teach them about waste management. This is where recycling comes in.
How do you teach kids the concept of recycling? As a parent you need to consider their age and ability, making your explanation of green practices as simple and relatable as possible.
Understanding the 3Rs of recycling
You should let your young ones know that there are three basic concepts around recycling- reduce, reuse, and recycle.
To reduce is to cut back and control waste a household produces during the family’s daily activities, work, play, and life in general. To reuse is to find another function for items we already have instead of throwing them away. Quite simple, I’m sure you’d agree.
Now, how do you make kids understand the word ‘recycle’? You might want to explain that some things may not be reused the way there are but can be turned back into raw materials used to make new items.
Curious children will want to know what they should recycle and why. For these smart ones, make a list of recyclable items they see around them like plastic bottles, cartons, aluminum cans, glass, metals, and old newspapers among other things.
They equally need to know that recycling is a way to help the environment, reduce waste, save our wildlife and preserve natural resources and create jobs in the process.
At this point, the young ones would have had a fairly good idea about recycling as much as their age allows. The next step is to teach them how to do it.
Consider the following ways to instill respect for the environment in your children.
Teach by example
As role models, parents know that children learn faster by observing their actions. Hence, to teach your children about recycling, you cannot adopt the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach. They need you to set a good example in this regard.
So, the next time you’re tempted to chuck something out of the car or discard a wrapper on the floor, remember that your young ones may be watching.
Use visual aids
No doubt you’re aware that kids find it a bit challenging to concentrate on a task for a long period of time. Taking their short attention span into consideration, you may find it helpful to show them stimulating and engaging clips of recycling and zero waste programs.
This way, they also get to learn about refuse dumps and how they can affect their health and the environment as well.
Play memory games
Children love activities. If you can get them to learn while having fun, even better. Some parents find it interesting to play recycling memory games with their little ones.
The basic concept of the games is to teach kids which items go into what. For example, a banana peel would go to a bin separate from where you’d throw broken plastics. To learn more about how recycling memory games work, click here.
Children love to experiment with artistic projects that may hardly make sense to adults. Leveraging on this natural ability, parents can creatively demonstrate how materials can be refashioned for a new use.
Even as an adult, I still remember a masterpiece I created during art classes in elementary school. Using paper mâché, I designed a nice-looking reptile out of old newspapers.
Parents can also think of creative projects they can embark on with their children while teaching them the principles of recycling.
Practice zero food waste
“Take what you can finish” is a command many parents give their kids. If this rule is broken, you can keep leftovers to be reheated for the next day.
Rather than discard not-so-fresh fruits like bananas, why not make smoothies out of them. When children observe this firsthand, they’ll understand how important it is to not waste food. The same applies to water and other consumables.
Give them books on recycling
Do your children enjoy reading books? That’d be another way to teach them about recycling. Many age-appropriate stories that young ones can relate to abound.
For example, Miranda Paul’s picture book, One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, can spur your kids to actively pursue environmental conservation and protection as a career path.
It is often said that children are the future leaders, but what kind of a future would they have if the planet is completely ruined? That’s a question we all should think about and take proper action now.