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REAL Life Preschool Recycling Activities

For preschoolers…recycling is an abstract idea until they see it in motion at home. I was looking for real life preschool recycling activities to use as teaching moments. Not just cute crafts using recycled materials…although those are fun and we love them!

The other day, we were walking home from the park eating some leftover Easter candy and my 4 year old tossed his empty package onto the sidewalk. He didn’t even think twice about it.

We stopped our walk and I told him he had to pick it up and put it in the stroller. Totally normal kid thing to do! I also remember tossing a wrapper out the car window when I was little and while I knew I shouldn’t…didn’t know WHY we don’t toss trash.

I saw a perfect teaching moment, and it got me thinking about practical preschool recycling activities that would expose them to where products come from, how much waste we create, and how they can be reused.

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Watch a video with them of a recycling plant

The website “Kids Should See This” is pretty cool! Watch this video from Levar of Reading Rainbow on How Trash Is Recycled.

Here’s another one showing an inside tour of a recycling plant.

I think just the visual of where the recycling truck goes is awesome, and kids can see how things get sorted, washed, and recycled!

Learn how to make recycled paper

I made recycled paper once in grade school and it made such an impression!

It would be worth doing it one time even though it’s messy and you’ll need a special screen to press the paper pulp together.

Preschool recycling activities in every day life

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Preschool recycling activities can be more than crafts, they can be small habits throughout the day and also just making old things new!

I’m aware recycling uses a ton of resources, and that it’s expensive as a society. But I also just LIKE knowing that the metal and plastic I recycle will hopefully get reused instead adding it to a landfill.

Here’s a few ideas to raise a preschooler that learns to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Reduce 

  • Donate used toys and clothes rather than tossing.
  • Have a rain barrel to catch water for outside activities like their water table, rather than running the hose as much.
  • Turn off the sink while they brush teeth.
  • Open the curtains when possible instead of turning on the lights. And turn off lights in rooms you’re not using.
  • Start a compost!

Reuse

  • Reuse paper bags as wrapping paper, and let kids color the package!
  • Take reusable bags to the grocery store.
  • Repurpose cardboard boxes for toys like play houses, cars, rockets, etc.
  • Color on the inside of cereal boxes, or used envelopes.
  • Buy used!
  • Sew up small holes or rips in clothes if you can to give them a little more life.
  • Reuse packaging as filler for sending mail.
preschool recycling activities: Here are Tetra Pak cartons repurposed into packaging filler.

Buying used:

Buying used saves me so much money…and it’s a subliminal teaching moment for kids to see used isn’t bad…for most things. Some things gross me out used and I just can’t.

Heres how I get used clothes online using Thred Up.

We also love to shop on Mercari for anything from maternity clothes to baby bottles to homeschool games and more.

And toys pretty much only come into our home used. Its cheaper too, and so much easier for me to give away that way.

Recycle

My kids help me put things in the recycling, which decreases my trash by about half!

They know we can recycle paper, cardboard, cans, milk jugs, and most plastic containers from the grocery store.

If there’s something I can buy as a can or glass bottle, I explain that we get the can so we don’t have to throw away the glass (our city doesn’t recycle glass). I hope it shows them that we have a choice in what we bring home.

If you have the desire and space to start a compost…what a cool hands on way to show kids plants break down to create nutritious garden soil!

Let them use compostable plates and cups

We discovered a neat company called Repurpose that sells compostable cups, straws, plates, and even 13 gallon compostable garbage bags! Amazon sells them, and you can find them at Whole Foods too.

We tried the cups, straws, and plates. They were sturdy and the clear plastic cups look like plastic but are compostable and plant based! My kids thought that was pretty cool.

Show them places where people don’t pick up their garbage

It’s a privilege to live in a clean country. I remember how shocking it was for me the first time I lived in a small poor village in the Dominican Republic where there was no system set up for garbage or recycling.

I saw trash everywhere. Food wrappers and plastic containers just scattered themselves on the sides of dirt roads and in people’s back yards. One local church built a giant hole on their property people could bring their trash.

So when my kids toss their food wrappers on the ground, I remind them, “Trash goes in the trash”. They don’t really have a visual for what I saw, but they have big imaginations.

YouTube can also help with this if you are selective.

Instagram accounts for recycled play inspiration

If you can be a tiny bit crafty, you’ll love these Instagram accounts that use recycled and natural materials.

Recycle and Play

Recycle Me Play

Natural Earth PaintsSaveSaveSaveSave

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Crystal

Friday 27th of April 2018

This is a great post! I’m glad you were able to seize that teaching moment. I never knew that there were toys and coloring books about recycling. I need to look into these. Thanks for sharing this great post ?

Liz

Monday 30th of April 2018

Thanks Crystal! This coloring book pictured was provided by Tetra Pak, but I'm sure you could also find free coloring printables on recycling too. Amazon just always seems to have something enticing! Have fun teaching your little ones about recycling :-)

Brigette Collins

Thursday 19th of April 2018

Loved this! We started looking at ways we could recycle and do our part to take care of our environment last week! So far the kids are enjoying their lessons! These are great ideas that I can incorporate into our lessons! Pinning for sure!

Liz

Thursday 19th of April 2018

Awesome Brigette! I'd love to know what lessons you are using with your kids. I'm always on the hunt for preschool recycling activities! Thanks for pinning.

Maria

Wednesday 18th of April 2018

I like the idea of a "giveaway bin." I'm having trouble explaining to my 4 year old why I am taking some of her unused toys but giving her the idea to give some of the toys she doesn't use to people less fortunate could help. I also haven't heard of tetrapak cartons. Thanks for the great information!

Liz

Wednesday 18th of April 2018

Maria, I highly recommend a giveaway bin. I keep ours out of reach of the kids, because they keep taking things out. They also see us drop it off at a thrift store. One thing that has helped with giving away older toys is to allow them to pick up a new toy at a thrift store. That way, it doesn't break the bank, we are "reusing" rather than buying new which more Earth friendly, and it's easier to give away again if I didn't spend much on it. Also, now that you know about Tetra Pak Cartons you will start recognizing them on the grocery shelves! Thanks for reading about these preschool recycling activities!

Tal

Wednesday 18th of April 2018

My twin boys are in preschool and it is the perfect time to start teaching them about recycling. I knew about Tetra packaging but not that they were made from renewable materials!

Liz

Wednesday 18th of April 2018

Hi Tal, yes their packaging is made from renewable materials! Sustainability is very important to them. Hope you enjoy some of these preschool recycling activities with your twins!

Jenn Pohlman

Wednesday 18th of April 2018

This is such a great post! I love how you consider the big picture - WHY we recycle, why it's important and instilling habits in addition to the fun arts and crafts kids to from time to time. Thanks!

Liz

Wednesday 18th of April 2018

Hi Jenn, yes the big picture is what I'm hoping to teach them! Kids are so smart and they are always watching mom, which is why I've focused more on daily habits that are Earth friendly than just a craft here and there. Eventually they will want to know more details, but I think this list is fairly age appropriate!