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How To Teach Your Child To Have Fun With Recycling

Stuck for ideas? The perfect rainy day activities for you and your child to enjoy together! 

Recycling and upcycling with your child

Everyone is talking about the environment these days and as recycling is one of the most cited aspects of environmental action, think outside the cardboard box and look at ways which the whole family can get involved in recycling and upcycling household objects whilst keeping it fun for children!  

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Talk to your child about recycling and upcycling, what they mean and why it is better for our environment and our planet.  Upcycling is more than just being hip and trendy; by reusing just a fraction of the things in our immediate environment, we can significantly reduce waste in landfills.  A possible simple mantra for the home could be Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose, Restore and Upcycle!  

Recycling 

Start early with your child and expose them to the concept of recycling so that it is a natural part of your everyday and becomes as habitual as putting rubbish in the bin!  Set up recycle bins in an area where your child sees you using them in the kitchen, a utility area or even in the garage. Introduce the language around recycling early so that your child is familiar with the concept and make a habit of regularly pointing out what you’re doing so that they connect the language with the activity: “This plastic bottle gets recycled in the green bin’’ or ‘’The newspaper goes in the blue bin.” Before you know it, your child will be coming to you with an item and asking whether it goes in the green or blue bin and then they will simply learn where it goes.  

For younger children, using green and blue recycling bins make an easy, fun activity with colours and materials. Even when they’re as young as two, they can play a matching game and select which items go into which bin!  You could even make small piles of recycling and have your child try to match the material with the proper bin. If you have older children, they could be in charge of recycling and can show their younger siblings how to help. 

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Don’t forget that accessibility and location are key. The more convenient it is to recycle, the more likely children are to do it; so as well as having marked bins in the kitchen, place a small box in your child’s bedroom for recycling paper and put a small container in the bathroom for collecting cardboard toilet roll tubes. 

Encourage their creativity by suggesting that they make personalised bins and decorate the recycling bins in whatever way they choose; you will be amazed by their designs, whether it be taping pictures of recyclable items onto the bins, painting them in bright colours or even having a bright glittery pink bin with stickers!  

If the bins are decorated with images of what will go inside, it is a great reminder for younger children.  You could play a simple matching game with your child so they can easily participate in the activity.  It can also be fun to make a goal chart above each bin to try and see how much you’ve recycled in a week and you will be amazed by the quantity of plastic we use! 

Upcycling 

You may be surprised to observe how much pleasure children take from making and creating their own toys, they don’t always need to be so commercial and packaged in pink or blue or targeted to gender-specific interests. Cardboard boxes have long been the million dollar toy, always so accessible, simple and yet adored by children; these ‘un-toys’ have their own cachet as they can metamorphose into the best toys. 

Remember that children love to create and explore different mediums and textures and they don't need it to be a specific item at the end or to have drawn a specific picture as it will be their own individual creation. Embrace process over product with your child and encourage them to build robots, castles, kitchens or dens or whatever they choose from cardboard boxes. 

Once they have the created the finished masterpiece, your child will have a real sense of achievement which will not only provide hours of fun and entertainment but is rewarding and builds their confidence and self-esteem. At the same time, your child is problem-solving as they work out how to design their vision and make it a reality and they are learning about concepts such as size and scale and weight and balance. Cardboard boxes in any size will provide more fun than you can ever imagine for your child as they learn through explorative play. For younger children, cardboard boxes make great sensory boxes where they can take turns hiding an object in the box and then their friends guess what’s inside using only their sense of touch.

Water bottles or old washing-up liquid containers are a close runner up as they can become rockets, water squirters in the summer, a bubble blower, skittles, bird feeders or garden planters. Encourage your child to make their own skittles as they can take 6 large water bottles and fill them with different coloured water and stack them in the garden, take 10 steps back and take turns throwing a tennis ball to knock them over – younger children love repetition so this simple game can provide hours of entertainment! 

Egg cartons and towelling or toilet roll tubes are also a great resource for arts and craft.  With the tiny little compartments already built in, egg cartons are great for sorting, playing, cutting, and combining and can also be used to create caterpillars or for growing cress once your child is old enough to watch the seeds germinate. The towelling and toilet roll tubes make wonderful dolls and your child may wish to create a whole family.  

Using recyclable household objects to upcycle is a great way to show your child that we don’t always need to buy new toys when we can make them at home instead. Get the wheels in their head turning, nurture their innovation and creativity and get upcycling! 

Some simple ideas to repurpose and upcycle household items with your child 

  • Use jam jar tops of different sizes for sorting and stacking
  • Yoghurt cartons are great for stacking and building pyramids
  • Decorate the garden with old CDs as sun catchers
  • Use egg cartons to make caterpillars and grow cress
  • Old cans can be decorated with colourful paper to make pencil/pen holders 
  • Use old socks, the clean and lonely ones of course to make puppets!
This article was written by Giraffe Childcare for eumom.ie

About the Author

Giraffe Childcare. Childcare that shapes a lifetime. For more information, visit giraffe.ie

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