Recycling: What Your Child Needs To Know

Today, when our lakes and rivers are overflowing with plastic and a pile of garbage can be seen around every housing colony, it has become important to teach children about recycling. We tell you how.

By Susan Philip

Recycling: What Your Child Needs To Know

The lyrics to the Boney M song ‘Don’t Kill the World’ are more relevant now than ever. With garbage piling up and lakes drying up, it’s very important to teach our children the need to preserve natural resources and recycle materials to prevent wastage.

Teaching our children how to recycle will instil in them a sense of responsibility toward the environment, which will enable them to look forward to a greener future.

However, before you start teaching your child how to recycle, you must teach him how to recognise what is recyclable and what is not. Many used items can be recycled or repurposed at home. We, as parents, must guide our children to use items that can be recycled. The goal is to reduce, and ultimately, eliminate the use of materials that can’t be recycled. Your child must learn that a handy option isn’t necessarily the best one.

Here are some ways you can teach your child how to recycle.

How to teach your preschooler to recycle

Recycling is a discipline that can be taught from a very young age. And, what’s more, the process can be fun, and enhance your child’s creative skills.

Don’t rubbish it: As soon as your little one is old enough to understand the use of a garbage bin, train her to tell the difference between wet and dry waste. After she eats a banana, guide her to put the peel in the wet waste bin. When she eats a bar of chocolate, teach her to put the wrapper in the dry waste bin. If you have a home composter, let her see how the wet waste can be put to good use. If not, explain the process to her. Let her see that it’s a cycle – what comes from nature goes back to the nature to fuel growth.

Get arty: Collect used wooden ice-cream spoons or ice-candy sticks and use them to make three-dimensional pictures. Draw a simple mountain or park scene on chart paper, and let your child help you stick on the spoons and sticks to represent a fence and people.

How to teach your primary schooler to recycle

As your child grows older, he will need and use more things. But this doesn’t mean that the old stuff needs to be discarded. Show him how you can extend the shelf life of many things. Here are some tips:

Learn to reuse: Encourage your child to reuse schoolbags. Usually, small repairs and a good wash are enough to get the bag looking good. Make her feel proud that she hasn’t wasted resources unnecessarily.

Alternatively, suggest that she motivate her friends to wash and repair their bags too, and give them to needy children. The same goes for outgrown shoes and clothes.

Use recyclable items: Find an online tutorial on making bags from newspaper, and help your child follow the instructions. Substitute these for plastic carry bags. This way you’re recycling paper and reducing plastic use.

Learn to re-purpose: Your child will be learning the rudiments of botany at this stage. Help him observe germination by recycling used paper cups and disposable containers to act as seed starters.

Get creative: Help your child make crafts with things which would otherwise be junked. Shoeboxes covered with used wrapping paper can turn into trendy containers to store childhood treasures. Collect empty cereal cartons and tubes from foil rolls and let her imagination run wild. She can glue them together and paint them to make doll houses or desk organisers.

How to teach your pre-teen to recycle

By this stage, your child is curious about many things and has learnt many skills. This is the perfect time to teach him about environmental conservation and encourage his thoughts on recycling. Here are some ways to do this:

Understand the significance: Help your child understand the need to reduce waste. Use newspaper flyers printed only on one side (note that you’re recycling these) to write fun facts on the subject and put them up on the refrigerator or his cupboard door. Find new ones each week.

New for old: This is a period when your child will be outgrowing clothes practically every month. Show her how these clothes can still be used. Short jeans can be cut to make shorts or pedal-pushers. Old jeans can be also fashionably ‘stressed’ by scrubbing them hard with a pumice stone or given a new look by sewing on appliqué pieces.

Reduce the paper trail: Your child will need to make notes for lessons and projects, and practise maths. Instead of buying new notebooks each time, cut out unused pages from old books at the end of the school year, and staple them together. You can make them look trendy by gluing cardboard pieces on the first and last sheet and covering the handmade book with used wrapping paper – adding to the list of recycled items. You can also use paper that has been printed only on one side for this.

Waste not, want not: There’s a lot of recycling possible in the kitchen. And it’s important that children are sensitised to food wastage, early on in life. Show your pre-teen how leftover dal, vegetables and even the dregs from pickle bottles can be added to dough, to make tasty and nutritious chapatis or puris.

Outsource recycling: Some waste cannot be recycled at home. This includes e-waste. Establish a system where discarded electronic items are stored in a specific place in the house and handed over to a responsible authority for proper disposal.

In the same way, locate organisations in your city or town which accept used items. Make it a family tradition to send stuff to these outfits regularly.

After following these practices, your children will understand the need for, and discipline of recycling. Once they grasp the importance of conservation they’ll grow up to be responsible adults who’ll teach the future generations about caring for the planet and nature. 

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