When you talk about ensuring a healthy world for tomorrow, the focus is always on future generations, namely, our kids. Although parents and teachers aren’t the only people reducing, reusing and recycling, there are always questions about how to get kids involved in the act so that they will one day adopt green lifestyles as adults. Well, I’m here to tell you that it is as simple as setting a good example and taking a little extra time to teach kids about recycling.

Set a Good Example

There’s nothing more overzealous than a grade school kid with a new cause to adopt. I’m serious: my nine-year-old has become a one-girl anti-drug campaign all by herself thanks to Red Ribbon Week. If I were to give her the goal of recycling, she’d be on me like white on rice to make sure every little bit of paper I touched ended up in the recycle bin. Hmm … that’s an idea!

Simply taking the time to talk about recycling will get your kids thinking about it, but the best thing we can do as parents (and teachers, when applicable) is to set a good example. We need to be doing our part. Let your kids see you recycling soda bottles and cardboard boxes. Have them help you clean house with some DIY cleaning products. Start a compost pile and actually use it. If staying away from animal products is important to you, then make sure you’re buying vegan leather shoes and belts. Kids are sponges and they really do learn by example, so the good news is that if you’re already earth-conscious, chances are your kids are too.

Get Kids Involved With Recycling

It may seem obvious, but getting kids involved in recycling activities helps them to take ownership of the process. One of my favorite things to do with my daughter is to go through her toys periodically and send the unused ones off to the thrift store. It’s fun for her to sort through these items to figure out what she really wants, and it makes mama very happy to be rid of some clutter. Now that she is older, she understands that it’s necessary to clear stuff out from time to time. When she was younger, I had to get a little trickier about it.

Younger children are more apt to part with “prized” possessions — you know, the ones they haven’t played with in months but are now suddenly the best toys ever — if they know that they’ll get something to replace them. Yard sales are great for this. Price everything out beforehand, and when one of the kids’ toys is purchased, document the amount in a notebook. Depending on how much they are getting rid of, your kids may actually rack up a decent amount of money. When I did this with my daughter a couple of years ago, she earned about $25. We then took that money and bought two new toys to replace the dozen or so that we sold.

I’ll admit that I’m kind of cheap when it comes to kids toys. My Mini Me had a few really nice toys that I just couldn’t bear to see sent off to Goodwill or sold for pennies at a yard sale. For these toys, my daughter and I decided whom they should go to. A couple of her little friends benefited from some very nice donated toys that were in like-new condition. Just be sure to check with the parents before you show up at their door with a box full of toys.

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Recycling Activities at School

Recycling doesn’t have to happen only at home. Teachers are with our kids for a very significant portion of their day, so the opportunity to teach recycling is right there! Elementary school teachers can place recycling bins in their classrooms to encourage recycling. Plan crafts that call for reused magazines and newspapers collected from students’ homes. Be sure to talk about the reuse of these items so that the significance isn’t lost on little ones.

Middle and high school kids can form recycling programs and environmental clubs with the help of faculty mentors. To get a recycling program started at your school, have students start counting the numbers of cans and bottles thrown away at lunchtime. This can be done by collecting the discarded containers themselves or by taking a tally at the end of the lunch period. Then, have them present the numbers to the principal: how many containers aren’t being recycled and the part that the school can play in making the world better in your community. Do a little research and find a company that will pick up recycling from the school. Provide bins around the cafeteria, or throughout the building, and spread the word so the rest of the student body knows what’s going on. Consider attaching a reward to the initiative, such as an ice cream party, to serve as a motivator.

High school students who want to make a difference can form an environmental club. Under the direction of a faculty advisor, the club can take on campaigns and launch projects, like the recycling project mentioned above or a local roadside cleanup day, to make the world better.

Help Kids Love the Outdoors

When you love something, you tend to be better at taking care of it. The same is true for kids and the environment. Sit outdoors with your kids to have dinner or lay out under the stars with an astronomy book. Have them keep a nature journal in which they can document the things they observe on a hiking trail, or even in your own backyard. Encourage them to observe the world around them. You’ll begin to see them take ownership of the earth, and that’s a promising beginning to future eco-conscious living.

By Megan Winkler

Eco-nerd, solar power enthusiast, DIY diva and professional coffee drinker, Megan has written everything from courses in healthcare and psychology to interior design and cooking advice. She has a master’s degree in military history, owns two chainsaws, is a collector of strange trivia and a world renowned Pinterest pro. She is constantly looking for better ways to do things.