Teach ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ in the classroom
Make a compost pile
(Age 4 and older)
Here’s what you need:
wire fencing, 36 inches wide and 5-8 feet long
dried leaves, six parts by volume to kitchen waste
fruit and vegetable peelings and green grass clippings, one part
water in spray bottle or watering can
1. Prepare for the activity by joining the sides of the fencing
to make a circular bin. By bending the snipped wire ends on one
side so they hook into the other side, you will be able to open
and close the bin as needed.
2. Identify a sunny, level area in a corner of the yard or another
spot with good drainage and out of traffic flow. Collect fruit
and vegetable peelings in a classroom compost pot (see activity
above) and green grass clippings from the yard. Make sure the
pieces are no larger than 2 inches in size.
3. Take children outdoors and ask what happens to leaves and
other plant matter as it dies and falls to the ground. Use words
such as Explain that nature
does not waste anything.
4. Encourage children to gather up dried leaves, dried weeds,
and twigs. Explain that these are “browns.” Have
children pile them on the selected spot for the compost pile.
Make sure items are no larger than 2 inches in size and the pile
is no higher than the bin, about 3 feet high.
5. Bring out the “greens” (grass clippings and fruit
and vegetable peelings). If you have been saving these for a
week or more, these will look slimy. Add the greens to the pile.
6. Invite children to spray or sprinkle water on the pile and
then stir the mixture. Add more “browns” on top as
7. Stand the wire bin upright over the pile. Encourage children
to measure the height of the pile with a yardstick and record
8. Every day, ask two or three children to turn the pile from
the inside out, using the shovels. You will probably need to
lift the bin off the pile for turning and replace it afterward.
Keep the pile damp but not wet.
9. Talk with children about what is happening to the plant matter.
Use words like and .
Ask children if they can see this process at work elsewhere in
the yard. Measure the pile’s height at least once a week.
10. Three or four weeks later, talk with children about the pile’s
smaller size and deep brown color. Remind them that this was
once a pile of plant waste and now it’s soil, called compost.
Talk about the cycle of growth and decay and how nature recycles
materials. Ask: “What’s the difference between a
compost pile and a landfill?”
11. Remove the wire bin, and invite children to spread the compost
on a flower bed or garden plot.
Note: If the bin needs support, place stakes around the bottom.
Let children take turns hammering the stakes into the ground.
Use plastic tie-wraps or heavy cord to hold the bin to the stakes.
Socks—not just for feet
(Age 4 and older)
Here’s what you need:
cotton sock with a hole in the toe or heel
needle and matching thread
used tennis or golf ball
plastic water bottle
leftover soap chips or bar soap
torn stocking, cotton balls, or other stuffing
string, yarn, or rubber bands
1. Show children the sock. Ask: “What do we do with a
sock after it gets a hole in it?” Accept all answers, such
as “Throw it away.”
2. Insert the ball into the sock under the hole. Demonstrate
how to mend the sock with needle and thread. Let children make
a few stitches. Ask: “Is mending hard or easy?” “Can
you make it look like new?” Explain that everyone used
to mend socks—and other clothing—and that some families
3. Ask: “What else can we do with socks that have holes
in them?” Brainstorm with children. Here are some ideas:
Insert your hand into the sock and show how it can be used
for dusting, or to erase writing from a dry-erase board.
Use two socks as gloves, arm warmers, or leg warmers.
Slip a plastic water bottle into the sock to absorb “sweating” or
keep the water cold longer.
Drop the soap chips into the toe and tie the soap off with
string for use as a soapy washrag.
Stuff the toe with cotton and tie it off with string for use
as a sock doll. Or omit the stuffing, draw eyes on the toe, and
use as a hand puppet.
Stuff the sock with more cotton and tie off in two or three
places to make it into a caterpillar toy.
Cut off the foot and use the tube top for a doll to wear.
Cut up several socks to sew and make into a pot holder. Or
cut up lots of socks to make into a quilt.
4. Invite children to choose a project, like the ones above,
that they would like to do. Collect materials and place them
in the art center for children to do on their own.
5. Invite children to talk with their parents and grandparents
about clothes that get torn or no longer fit. Do they mend rips
and tears? Do they hand clothes down to younger siblings or cousins?
Explain that mending clothes and passing them along to others
is , and that making socks into something different is
Geometric building units
(Age 5 and older)
Here’s what you need:
card stock paper for patterns
string or yarn
polystyrene meat trays, washed and dried, about 4 for each
1. Invite children to draw a square, triangle, and circle on
the card stock to use as patterns. Encourage them to use a ruler
to draw the square and triangle, 3 inches on a side. Show them
how to tie string around the pen and draw a circle, 3 inches
2. Have children cut out the patterns, place them on the polystyrene,
and trace around the edges. Children can make as many of each
shape as they wish. The size of the trays and patterns will determine
how many shapes they will get.
3. Encourage children to cut out the shapes. In the middle of
each side edge of the square and triangle, cut a slot about a
half inch long. The slot should be slightly wider than the thickness
of the polystyrene, about 1/4 inch. On the circle, cut four slots
around the edge at equal distances from each other: top, bottom,
and each side.
4. Invite the children to build with the shapes by slipping a
slot of one shape into a slot of another. They can use their
own set of shapes or combine several sets as a group. Talk with
children about how they have recycled meat trays that would otherwise
have gone into the garbage.
(Ages 4 and older)
Here’s what you need:
blender (for use by adults only)
scrap paper of various types, including construction paper,
typing paper, wrapping paper
dishpan or rectangular cake pan
plastic pitcher for pouring water
stacks of old newspapers
fine mesh wire or fiberglass screen that will fit into the
1. Invite a small group of children to tear paper scraps into
2. Invite them to fill the blender half full with the paper,
and pour in enough water to cover the paper.
3. Run the blender about five seconds. If the mixture seems too
thick and the blender labors, add a bit more water. If the mixture
seems too runny, add more paper. Blend until the paper scraps
form a mash or pulp.
4. Have children take turns doing the following steps. Place
the screen in the bottom of the dishpan, and pour in water about
1 inch deep.
5. Pour about a cup of pulp over the screen, and swish it around
evenly with fingers.
6. Holding the screen level, lift it from the water and let it
7. Place the screen, pulp side up, on one section of newspaper.
Place another newspaper section on top and flip the screen so
the pulp is face down.
8. Roll the rolling pin over the newspaper to remove excess water.
9. Open the newspaper and remove the screen. Let the pulp dry
10. In the morning, peel the recycled paper from the newspaper.
Talk with children about how they have old paper into
new paper. Invite children to use the recycled paper in an art
project or as a note card.
Variations: Experiment with colored paper to vary the shades
of the finished paper. Add small bits of leaves, flower petals,
and grasses to the paper mash for a nature effect, or use glitter
and bits of ribbon for glamour. Press a cookie cutter or empty
can on the drying pulp to make shaped paper or to create designs.
Conduct a waste audit
(Age 6 and older)
Invite schoolagers to take a close look at what is being thrown
out at your school. They might choose to gather up the trash
thrown out after snack or after a whole day. Analyzing what you
find can give you some ideas for reducing trash. It also gives
you a benchmark for measuring the improvement your school can
make over time.
Download a manual
for conducting the waste audit at www.zerowaste.co.nz/assets/BusinessSolutions/wasteaudit.pdf.
This 18-page manual describes how to do it, gives safety precautions,
offers sample audit forms, and suggests how to write the report
Books for children
Paulette. 1998. .
Toronto: Kids Can Press, Ltd.
Charming story and illustrations
follow Sam the garbage collector as he stops at houses to pick
up trash. A neighborly fellow, he helps Mrs. Green whose false
teeth have mistakenly found their way into the trash. The book
contains explanations of landfills, recycling, and litter.
Jacobs, Francine. 1996. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
Colorful illustrations and simple text describe what happens
to materials at a recycling center—how trash is sorted
and packed into bales for delivery to factories.
Robert. 2000. New York: Henry Holt & Co.
has simple text and excellent color photographs of sanitation
trucks and landfills as well as examples of recycling.
Steve. 1991. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook
Humorous cartoons define trash, describe a landfill and
incineration plant, explain how to make a compost heap in a trash
can, illustrate the life cycle of a glass bottle, and describe
recycling of clothing, toys, and metals.
Stephanie. 2005. London: Usborne Publishing.
Simple text with color photographs and illustrations show how
trash is transported to a landfill or burned in an incinerator.
It also shows toilet and bath water going into a sewer. It describes
how recycled metal and plastics are melted, glass is crushed,
paper is made into newspaper, and garden waste is composted.