Top 5 Ideas for Getting Children to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle in Your Classroom
Inspiring ideas for a greener classroom
- Grades: PreK–K
Congratulations to the winners of our Early Childhood Winning Ideas Monthly Contest! Each of these entrants — teachers just like you — won $50 in Scholastic products for sharing their ideas.
Preschool Wall Art Project
Since September, my New Jersey preschool class has collected bottle caps. We saved hundreds of caps, including: soda, water, juice, milk — any plastic bottle top. My students sorted the caps by color, then size. They dipped the caps into glue and pasted them onto a cardboard backing to create a colorful flower and frog design. Our other recycling activities have included collecting and recycling used printer ink cartridges and cell phones, to earn points to purchase new playground equipment.
Our latest project is saving CapriSun juice pouches to earn money to adopt an animal at the Philadelphia Zoo. Our last animal adoption was a red panda.
–Ronda Trifiletti, NJ
What would it be like if everyone just threw their trash on the ground?
This is the opening question of my "Sludge City" unit. Over a few weeks we investigate recycling from the "expert's" point of view. We put trash into bins full of dirt and water and observe what happens. We then do the same thing with bins full of plants. We study recycling from a citizen's point of view. I create activities such as "Your town is overflowing with trash! How will you clean it up?" and give the students access to everything in the room. One time, the trucks at the block center became "vacuum cleaners" and saved the city. The students take ownership of the activities because they are given responsibility.
Here are some of our other activities:
- collect recyclables for art projects
- turn plastic jugs into bird feeders
- go on a 'trash hunt' around the school
- connect with books on recycling as well as websites
- look at pictures of wildlife entangled in trash
- collect junk mail for one week, weigh it, and compare it to how many trees the paper had come from
- invite a real-life sanitation worker comes in to talk with us
- ask a college student to do a recycling project: one year they made bats with aluminum cans, googly eyes, wings, and black paint
I love this unit because the kids really get to see how much they consume and get an idea of why it is important to take care of the planet. The kids get a lot of concrete interactions with the ideas they are learning about.
–Katie Ensell, OH
I teach a class of 3 to 5-year-olds. We talk throughout the year about reducing, reusing, and recycling. Our rule when washing hands is to use 1 squirt of soap and 1 paper towel. We also have a "light switch helper" on our helper chart who is in charge of turning out lights during the day: i.e. classroom lights when we go to the playground and bathroom lights if someone forgets when exiting the bathroom. We also use many items in our classroom for crafts: empty tennis ball containers, egg cartons, tuna and soup cans, etc.
–Teressa Wallace, TN
In our class we always try to find new ways to use things. I always bring in my old magazines for cutting practice and collages. The students love to look at pictures of other people and animals.
For pen/pencil holders I take empty aluminum cans and take the labels off and we paint them as a class, each year we make new ones as a group so the students can take ownership of them.
For our dramatic play center I donate and parents donate used clothes which we can rotate depending on our unit of study. This way it's kept fresh and new!
In class we practice continuously using both sides of the paper, and we have a construction paper scrap box which we will empty out periodically and come up with an art project to make use of it all. Most recently for Mother's Day we made planters out of 1/2 gallon plastic milk jugs and decoupaged the outside with our construction paper scraps and added a pretty ribbon. It served two purposes: we emptied out our scrap box and made a beautiful planter!
–Alexandra Ziemann, MN
We reuse our scraps of paper from projects in our classroom. We have a water table in one corner of our room but instead of having water in it we put all paper pieces from classroom activities, projects and such. There are 3 pairs of kid friendly scissors and the kids take turns practicing their cutting skills. When it's full we've done a couple of things.
We have the kids do abstact pictures with all the cut up pieces of paper. We gave each child a large piece of black construction paper. They then used their glue sticks and created one of a kind works of art that we then hang in our classroom.
With the paper that is left we make sure it goes into our school's recycle bin. The bin earns us money for things at our school. It's great to be able to save the planet as well as have fun while doing it.
The kids love to make their art.
–Dana DeStefano, PA