Teach Kids About Recycling in 5 Easy Lessons
We are all aware of the importance of recycling. Maybe we didn’t use to recycle as children, but as adults we must try to improve the living conditions of our youngsters in order to deliver them a sustainable planet. Recycling is not a trend; it’s a way of living, a culture which should be fostered from an early age. We shouldn’t only change our own habits; we must also educate our children on this important subject.
the following interactive feature exemplifies the importance of recycling to our planet’s future, and what might happen if we don’t teach the next generation how to be environmentally conscious. You can click on each year in order to move further into the future.
This article aims to offer a practical and effective guide for students aged from 5 to 10 years old, which will help teachers in preparing lessons and carrying them out in the classroom. It consists of 5 lesson plans which include games and activities. It also includes worksheets for students 8-10 years old. The last section of each lesson plan provides information about recycling, in a simple and understandable way. The numbers in parentheses indicate the learning objective each particular activity serves. It is worth noting that the applied educational methods and techniques intend to encourage the children’s active participation, with special emphasis on teamwork.
Lesson Plan 1: “Introduction to recycling”
The students learn:
- The concept of recycling
- How recycling helps protect the environment
- The value and benefits of recycling
The first lesson is an introduction to recycling. The teacher introduces the concept of recycling for first time, highlights its value and benefits and establishes a link between recycling and environmental protection. In this lesson, it is necessary for the teacher to “diagnose” how familiar the children are with recycling and set an ultimate goal for them -to learn all the secrets of recycling and become great recyclers.
The teacher introduces to the children “Inspector SuperBin”. This is a sketch of a blue recycling bin with the propriety of the inspector being reflected mainly by the use of a magnifying glass and a hat. Inspector SuperBin “inspects” / “oversees” the students throughout the recycling course, watching that they apply what they have learned and gives rewards to the right answers.
The children are challenged to express their opinions on recycling by using their personal experiences. The teacher may also ask them the following questions:
- What do you know about recycling?
- Do you recycle at home or do you avoid it? Why?
- Do you know what happens to the different materials after putting them in the recycling bin?
After the discussion, the teacher provides the definition of recycling and writes the key benefits for the protection of the environment on the board. He then highlights the serious problem of the continuous decline of natural resources and introduces the concept of reusing recycled materials. (1.1-1.3)
At the end of the lesson, the teacher asks the students to play a game in which they will solve the following riddle:”It is easy for all of us to take the first step in protecting the planet. Can you think of anywhere “nearby” where we can recycle materials which we used until recently, and do not need anymore, rather than throwing them away?”
The teacher then divides the children into three groups asking them to solve the “riddle”. He lets the children in each group whisper the possible answers amongst each other and he writes down each group’s final answer. Thereafter, he announces all the answers, and congratulates the team that answered correctly: the recycling bin. The first lesson ends.
Finally, the teacher asks the students to come to the next lesson with a used package from home, which should be empty and clean, as in the following lesson the students will learn the next secret: Which materials can be recycled in the recycling bin, easily and quickly.
Teacher/Parent guide –Information on recycling
Recycling is the process of collecting and altering old paper, glass, plastic, aluminum and tin, so these materials can be used again.
Our society produces more and more litter every year, which is polluting the environment and threatening our health. This increase in litter causes:
- An increase in microbes and diseases
- Risks to our health
- A threat to animals
- Pollution of water, land and air
- Increase of the “greenhouse effect.”
Definition: Exhaust gases produced by burning fossil fuels create a thick layer around the earth; these retain the sun’s heat in the atmosphere.
The greenhouse effect causes:
- Increased global temperature
- Negative effects on forests, animals and agricultural production, water supply and human health
- Increase of sea levels
- Increase of air pollutants
- Climate Change
Lesson Plan 2 “Practical Recycling”
In the second lesson students learn how to:
- Distinguish which materials can be recycled
- Associate recyclable materials with daily products
- Recycle through interactive games and participation in group activities
The teacher asks the students to place the used packages they brought from home on the desk. At this point, the teacher informs the students that the secret to be learned in today’s recycling lesson is distinguishing which materials can be placed in the recycling bin and be reused after appropriate treatment. He draws 4 large circles on the board and gives them the following titles: Plastic, Glass, Paper, and Metal. Then he asks the children to give examples of each category based on the objects they see on the desks. In the meantime, the teacher gives the children a little more information about these materials. (2.1-2.2)
Create Inspector SuperBin (For all students)
Let’s play. The students will make their own Inspector SuperBin as they imagine it. Its role is to motivate the children to participate in recycling and to make teaching more enjoyable to students. It is “Super”, because it helps us preserve the environment and our quality of life in a simple and effective way.
The teacher divides the children into four groups (Glass, Plastic, Paper, Aluminum and Tin) and gives them the following instructions: Each team will require a large cardboard box, paints and drawings of various objects to decorate their recycling bin. The colour blue will be used for metal, green for glass, yellow for paper, red for plastic. (2.3)
After the creation of the SuperBins, the teacher invites the students to put the packages they brought from home into the recycling bins, by category. (2.2-2.3)
Activity for older children (7-10 years old)
After the creation of the SuperBin, the teacher hands out worksheets with creative exercises that will determine whether they have learned to recognize the different materials. The work on the worksheets is done in groups, in order to limit the amount of paper printed. (2.3) At the end of each lesson that includes a worksheet, the teacher and students put the worksheets in the recycling bin together.
Game for younger children (5-6 years old)
Feed the bins!
Play and learn which materials can be recycled and which cannot.
The easiest way to learn is through playing. So join your children or your students and get in the game. Recycling is a great subject that you can deal with in kindergarten and in primary school.
Creating the game takes 4 simple steps:
- Construct two dice out of paper. Attach 3 recycling icons and 3 non recycling icons (for instance, a recycling icon with a red X on it) to the faces of the cubes.
- Find images of materials you can recycle and those you cannot .You can use Google to search for queries such as the following: “what can I recycle- clipart”.
- Then make cards with objects you can recycle and those you can’t. Print each card twice. Put the different cards in two paper bags.
- Take 4 boxes and attach the recycling icon to the first two and the non recycling icon to the other two. You are ready to start the game. You can call it: “Feed the bins!”
How to play the game
Variation for 2 children: Each child throws the dice in order to determine whether he should place his cards in the recycling bin or in the ordinary bin. Then he chooses the appropriate card from his paper bag. The cards are common for both children, for example there are 10 recyclable and 10 non recyclable objects in each bag. The child who puts all his cards in the right bin first, wins.
Variation for several children: The children are divided into two teams. Each team has a paper bag which contains an equal number of cards with recyclable and non recyclable objects, a dice and two different bins (a recycling and an ordinary bin). This game is like a race to recycle. Ask the children to stand in two lines. Each member of each team, in his own turn, throws the dice and puts a card into the correct bin. The winning team is the one which finishes first and puts in the highest amount of cards in the correct bins.
Before you start the game, engage the children in a quick discussion by asking: “What do you think can be recycled?
Can we recycle all objects made of plastic, glass, paper and aluminum?”
Listen to their responses and then explain recycling with examples from their daily life.
Dirty cans, bottles, boxes etc can’t be recycled. We have to clean them first before we throw them into the recycling bin. We also can’t recycle broken glass, straws and disposable cups, calling cards, some plastic lids, tickets, paper cut in small pieces or wet, candles and packaging of prepared food. Clothes or objects that have fabric elements shouldn’t be thrown into recycling bins. Styrofoam, iron hangers, furniture, small objects of wood and plants should be thrown to the ordinary bin.
Now, finally, it’s time to start the game. It is a lively game which can be accompanied by music.
Teacher/Parent guide –Information on recycling
- Plastic bottles of water and soft drinks, packaging used for food such as yogurt and butter, empty containers of detergents, cleaning products, shower gels, shampoos, toothpastes, deodorants, etc.
- Glass packaging: bottles of water and soft drinks, food jars, etc.
- Paper packaging: milk cartons, cereal packaging, pizza trays, detergents, etc.
- Aluminum packaging of soft drinks and beers
- Tin packaging of condensed milk, tuna cans, coffee cans, etc.
- Food leftovers
- Electronic equipment
- Construction materials
- Textiles and clothing
- Garden waste
- Objects made of wood, leather etc.
- Games of all kinds
Lesson Plan 3: “The Process of Recycling”
In this lesson the students learn:
- How to participate properly in the process of recycling
- What are the different stages of the recycling process
The teacher selects some of the collected items in the SuperBins created by the students (left there in the previous lesson) and exemplifies the concept of reuse. For example, how a jar of jam or a soft drink bottle can now be used as a flower vase. He then prompts the children to give an example of their own. Afterwards, the teacher tells the students that Inspector SuperBin wants to share with them a few points about recycling at home (see the “Teacher/Parent guide –Information on recycling procedure”) and that he will “reveal” the third secret: “What the SuperBin does”. (3.1) At this point, the teacher explains the overall process of recycling.
Create a Collage
Creating a large collage depicting the process of recycling is an interesting activity for children of all ages. First, the teacher divides the students into two groups: the first group will create a collage that illustrates the steps we follow at home until we throw the packages into the recycling bin, and the second group will create a collage that illustrates the process from the recycling bin to the factory and finally the reuse of materials. The children can use their own drawings (5-6 years old) or photos from the internet (7-10 years old) to illustrate the process. To sum up, the teacher helps the younger students write the description of the process that corresponds with each stage, while the older students do it on their own. (3.2)
Activity for younger students (5-6 years old)
Creativity game: Easy candle decoration
You will need:
- An empty, lidless and clean tuna can
- Plastic or wooden clothes pegs / small wooden sticks / cinnamon sticks
- Coloured ribbons
- A tea light candle
Glue the clothes pegs/ small wooden sticks / cinnamon sticks to the tuna can.
Put the tea light candle inside.
Attach the ribbon around the clothes pegs and make a bow.
Your decorative candle is ready.
Activity for older students (7-10 years old)
At the end of the lesson, the teacher gives the students worksheets to complete. They are instructed to put the recycling steps in the correct order.
Teacher/Parent guide –Information on the recycling process
How do we recycle the packaging we use?
Recycling at home:
- We separate the recyclable packaging from the litter daily.
- We completely empty packaging before they’re thrown into the recycling bin, to be sure that they’re clean.
- We fold cartons.
- We throw packaging materials into the recycling bin without using garbage bags.
- We never throw trash into the recycling bins.
- We communicate the message of recycling to our friends and acquaintances.
The recycling process:
- Collection vehicles transport the materials we throw into the recycling bins to the Materials Recovery Facilities.
- The materials are separated, compressed and made into packages through special treatment.
- The most useful materials are sent to manufacturers to in order make new products. For example, used aluminum cans are melted down for molding into thumbtacks, pie pans, license plate frames, aluminum foil.
Lesson Plan 4: “Positive Impacts of Recycling”
The students learn:
- The positive effects of recycling on the environment
- Details about how much we recycle
The teacher informs the students that in this lesson they will learn the greatest secret of recycling – the positive impact it has on the environment and on the quality of our life. After this lesson the students will be able to realize what the benefits of recycling are, and the effect they have on the environment and our daily lives. They will also learn more details about how much we recycle today and why we need to maximize our efforts.
“Right or wrong” game
This game helps students to learn some basic information about the benefits of recycling. The teacher writes a few “facts” about recycling on the board (the teacher guide includes helpful ideas). He then divides the students into two groups and reads the sentences one by one, asking the students to decide whether they are right or wrong. He notes the answers on the board and in the end he announces the winning team with the most points. As the lesson continues, the teacher provides more information on the benefit of recycling; simple facts for the younger students (5-7 years old) and statistics for the older students (8-10 years old).
Activity for older students (8-10 years old)
The teacher hands out worksheets with “True or False” questions.
Teacher/Parent guide: Information on the benefits of recycling
When we recycle:
- We reduce the volume of our city garbage and have fewer landfills.
- We reduce our waste by 25-30%.
- We save energy, raw materials and natural resources (trees, oil, water, minerals, etc.)
- We protect the environment.
- We reduce pollution of the environment (soil, air, and groundwater).
- We create jobs.
When we recycle paper, we achieve:
- Less garbage
- Environmental Protection
- Less water and energy consumption
- Fewer trees are cut down
Paper and cardboard constitute 20% of our waste. If we recycle these materials, we will reduce our waste by 700-800,000 tons annually. By recycling one ton of paper, we save the lives of 17 trees!
Trillions of aluminum cans are used globally per year. Aluminum is made from bauxite. Bauxite is a rock and the principal aluminium ore. It takes 4 tons of bauxite to give us one ton of aluminum. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough electricity to operate:
- A TV for three hours
- A refrigerator for 4 hours
- A radio for 4 hours
- Providing light for an entire house for 5 hours.
Aluminum can be melted down and reused over and over again. It can be recycled into: soda cans, plates, thumbtacks, license plates, aluminum foil, and may other objects. On the flip side, it takes 80 – 100 years for aluminum cans to break down and decompose in our landfills and dumps.
Instead of waiting glass to decompose, which will take over 1,000,000 years in the landfills, we can recycle or reuse it. This will save energy and natural resources. One ton of recycled glass saves 22 to 30% of energy and tons of raw materials (sand, limestone, soda).
Jars, bottles, dishes, drinking glasses, coffee mugs and even jewelry are made from recycled glass.
Plastic is made out of oil and its derivatives. In particular, PETE plastic or in other words, Polyethylene Terephthalate is an excellent water and moisture barrier material and is widely used for soda and water bottles.
There is a PETE symbol on the bottom of the bottles made from this material.
Unfortunately, plastic needs more than 700 years to decompose in our dumps. So, we can recycle it. Recycled plastic is used to manufacture toys, rulers, clothing and fiberfill for sleeping bags and stuffed animals.
Lesson Plan 5: “Conclusion”
- The students go over what they have learned in the previous recycling lessons
- The students transfer their knowledge to others
- The students get rewarded for their knowledge
The teacher informs the children that this will be the last recycling lesson. Their next task will be to spread the message of recycling to their parents, relatives and friends. In this lesson the children are going to go over the information they have learned through an interesting role playing game, and will be rewarded for their efforts of making recycling a part of their daily life.
Role playing Game: For students 6-10 years old
Virtual city council
Subject: Recycling in the city
The students will play the role of the members of the City Council and they will talk about the need for recycling in their city. The teacher distributes the role cards:
Deputy Mayor, secretary, members of the city council, citizens and environmentalists.
The teacher will play the role of the mayor, who will direct the city council. In this “meeting” the children should talk about recycling (what it is, what is the process of recycling, what are its advantages, where can it be done, etc.) and come up with some conclusions about what should be done to encourage recycling in their city. After the discussion they are to design a large poster, which will display the process of recycling and place it in the classroom.
At the end of the lesson, the teacher will inform the students that they have passed the “assessment” of Inspector SuperBin. It’s time for the students to be awarded their certificates proving that they will continue to be “great recyclers”.
Today, as the world’s population is increasing, natural resources are reducing, and the effects of climate change are globally visible, environmental education becomes a core value. Ultimately, it is important to teach our children to care for the environment, and recycling is the most simple and effective way to positively influence the world we live in. Bringing up children with “green” consciousness isn’t a daunting task; it can be done in a fun, simple manner. Learning all about recycling not only gives our children the chance to protect the environment, but also makes them feel that they can save the planet. This way we can all play our part in our future and in the future of our planet.