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Teaching Students to Recycle

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While teaching children to recycle may seem like a daunting task, some educators claim that it is actually easier than many people may think. The key is to devise ways to keep the message simple, while simultaneously making recycling entertaining and fun. By using the right methods to get the message across, parents and educators can help children to understand why recycling is of such vital importance.

Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) say that the best way to get children to thinking about recycling is to relegate the concept into three terms: reduce, reuse and recycle. By helping children to remember these “three R’s” of managing waste products, you can help them to develop daily routines that will turn into lifelong habits.

The NIEHS also recommends making the task of recycling an entertaining one, and offers several suggestions on how to make it fun. In addition,there are a number of other sites such as Online Teaching Degree and the North American Association for Environmental Education, that provide excellent tips on how to teach students about recycling and the environment. However, while making recycling fun is important, it’s is also important to remember that children need to understand a few basics about recycling, such as the following:

Why we need to recycle. Children are always asking “Why?” and this gives you an excellent opportunity to sit them down and give them a real, factual answer. Just remember to explain the concept in basic terms, using words and examples that they’ll understand.

• How we can recycle. Keep this fairly simple as well and don’t expect too much at first, as kids often forget to do things unless they keep doing them for a few days or even weeks. Give them a few easy tasks to stay on top of, such as helping sort items for the recycling bin. After that, you can transfer them onto bigger projects.

• When we need to recycle. Kids need to understand that items need to be recycled every day, not just for once or twice a week when the waste management truck comes to pick up the recycling bin. Teach children how they can implement recycling into their everyday lives — such as reusing containers and water bottles or reusing scrap paper. Soon, using up that extra piece of scrap paper rather than throwing it out will become second nature to them.

After your students start to learn the importance of recycling, you can create a bigger recycling project for them. This can be a long-term project, such as creating a compost heap, or a short-term project, such as saving glass bottles or aluminum cans and turning them in. Either type of project not only gives kids a feeling of responsibility, but also shows them that recycling can be done in a variety of ways.

In addition, the entire class can participate in a class composting project, creating a compost heap that can be used for growing plants in the spring. By implementing these projects, students will be able to see the results of their efforts, and better understand how composting not only reuses waste materials, but that doing so actually creates material that enriches the soil.

In addition to large-scale projects such as composting, the NIEHS suggests making a master list of things for kids to routinely recycle in their daily lives. For this approach to be the most effective, it helps to break the items to into different categories. For example, under the “paper” category you could put items such as drink boxes and milk cartons, grocery sacks, cardboard boxes, newspapers and junk mail. Similarly, in the plastics category you can list items such as milk and soda bottles, oil containers, peanut butter jars, sandwich bags and grocery bags. Explain to your class just how long it takes for these items to break down in a landfill. You can then teach the class how to reuse all of the items on the list, or how to compost or dispose of them in sustainable methods.

Encouraging your class to reuse rather than dispose of everyday items is a great way to get your students thinking about the recycling process. This also helps them get involved in recycling, and may even inspire them to devise their own projects. In the end their participation, no matter how small it may seem at first, will develop gradually into a regular routine. By showing them how great their contribution can be, you’ll be helping your students to understand that recycling is not just a weekly activity, but a daily way of life that will ensure the safety of the planet we share.

Special Thanks to my guest blogger, Alicia Moore.  Alicia has always loved to learn and is working toward earning a teaching degree. She is particularly interested in how the advent of the Internet and technology are changing the educational landscape. When she is not exploring the future of education, Alicia enjoys writing about literature, languages and online resources for teachers.

Visit Alicia and find out more at www.onlineteachingdegree.com.