Our earth should be protected so its precious resources can be available to us for many years to come. It is never too early to start teaching children the importance of keeping our planet clean and learning how to reduce, reuse, and recycle. With a little guidance and supervision, kids can get creative helping and celebrating the earth. Just because preschoolers are small doesn't mean they can't help make a difference. After all, little steps can lead to big changes.
Many people are now turning to reusable bags, found in nearly every grocery store, as an alternative to the traditional paper or plastic. Made of cotton, canvas, polyester, or recycled polypropylene, the totes are machine washable or easy to wipe down with mild soap and a damp cloth. You can also order them from Oriental Trading Company or buy them at local craft stores like Michael's in a variety of colors and styles. Choose a bag and then let your child pick supplies -- acrylic paint, fabric markers or paint pens, rhinestones, stickers, animal or earth-themed rubbers stamps and stencils, etc. -- to decorate it. Be sure to help with the harder parts of decorating, like writing her name or a fun quote about Earth, making sure paint don't stain skin or other surfaces, and handling any type of glue such as a glue gun. Your little one will be proud to use her tote to transport toys or carry lunches and snacks.
Grab cardboard boxes, shoeboxes, or plastic storage boxes to organize junk mail, old magazines, fabric, ribbons, and extra buttons before they end up in the trash. According to Zerowasteamerica.org, there are more than 13,000 old and active landfills in the United States that contain waste material that cannot be recycled and has nowhere to go until it decomposes -- if it can decompose at all. Transform an empty plastic milk jug into a bird feeder by cutting a hole in the side of the jug and filling the jug with birdseed before hanging on a tree. Create a flowerpot by poking holes in the bottom and cutting the milk jug in half below the handle; decorate it with the miscellaneous materials you already stockpiled. Your child can make multiples of these items and set up a stand in the front yard to sell the recycled crafts (with adult supervision, of course). Together, choose an earth-friendly charity, such as American Forests, World Wildlife Fund, or Rainforest Rescue to donate the profits.
Whether in your backyard or at a local garden plot you rent, planting a garden can be fun for any preschooler, especially the ones who like to get dirty. With your child, choose seeds of favorite fruits and vegetables that will grow well in your area to care for through the year. Children will get good exercise; they'll also learn to nurture the environment and that plants can help clean our air and provide healthy nourishment. Jerusha Klemperer, Associate Director of National Programs at Slow Food USA, writes, "Children who learn in and around edible gardens and farms learn firsthand to make connections between food and the environment, food and personal health, and food and community well being." Gardening also teaches responsibility and the importance of caring for the planet.
Make a list of items for your child to collect outdoors, like pinecones, leaves, flowers, rocks, and sticks. Add items like plastic bottles or paper cups. Go on a walk around your neighborhood or to a nearby park. When all the items on the list have been gathered, talk about what role they have and the impact they make on the surrounding environment. For example, sticks are gathered by birds to make nests to live in and flowers have nectar that bees carry back to their hives to make honey. Paper and plastic items, on the other hand, are litter that do not belong in nature and should always be recycled so they don't continue to pollute or harm the environment.
Kids are constantly picking up objects even when we don't want them to, so why not encourage them to clean up the earth? Grab a pair of gloves and some trash bags and go to your favorite local park, playground, or beach. Spend a few minutes with your preschooler cleaning and picking up trash. Let your child pick up paper and plastic products, making sure he doesn't pick up anything dangerous, like broken glass or prickly bottle caps, while you handle the serious stuff, like cigarettes and beer bottles. Take time to explain why it is important to keep the earth clean. Tell your child how trash can make animals sick if they mistake it for food or how trash can increase germs and bacteria that aren't good for hygiene and health. You may also want to explain how long certain pieces of trash take longer to decompose, which can take up space on earth. For example, a plastic bag can take at least 10 years to decompose, aluminum cans up to 200 years, and disposable diapers over 500 years!
Many homes today have separate containers for recyclable materials, and some cities even provide recycling bins for bottles and cans, paper products, and yard waste. If you already have bins in place, involve your preschooler in sorting the recyclables. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, "Recycling just 1 ton of aluminum cans conserves more than 207 million Btu, the equivalent of 36 barrels of oil, or 1,665 gallons of gasoline." Take your little one to a local supermarket or a recycling center that has machines for depositing bottles and cans. Some of the self-service recycling machines can make loud noises when they crush the bottles and cans. If this scares your child, let her stick to sorting. Other machines simply require the recyclables to be placed on a small conveyor belt where they are separated to be recycled elsewhere. Make a game out of seeing how many bottles and cans you can recycle, and let your child turn the money you get back into a reward for her efforts. Let her choose something small to buy or bring the money home to save in a piggy bank.
Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.
Heidi Deal is a freelance writer and mother. She focuses on writing about issues that affect children, parents, animals, and the environment.