I Can Recycle!

In this lesson, students will learn about items that can be recycled and why this is important to protect the earth.

Content Area:

Earth, Water and Air

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Demonstrate curiosity about the world and begin to use the practices of science and engineering to answer questions and solve problems
  •  Explore concepts and information about the physical, earth and life sciences

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Developing beginning skills in the use of science and engineering practices such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions
  • Exploring the physical properties of objects
  • Exploring concepts and information related to the earth, including ways to take care of our planet
  • Collecting, describing, comparing and recording information from observations and investigations
  • Identifying, describing and comparing the physical properties of objects
toddler planting

I Can Recycle!

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • Various paper items (writing paper, paper towels, newspaper, tissue, toilet paper, paper plates, cardboard)
  • Various glass items (jars, drinking glasses, eyeglasses)
  • Various metal items (aluminum cans, steel food cans, aluminum foil, pie pans, metal toys, pots and pans, baking sheets)
  • Various plastic items (bottles, milk jugs, toys, cups, plates, food containers)
  • Four paper bags, cardboard boxes or laundry baskets to use as recycling containers

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Ask: “What is trash?”
  2. Ask: “When you find something that is trash, what do you do with it? Who can name one thing that you throw away in the trash?”
  3. Ask: “Where do we put the trash?”
  4. Discuss: When the trash is full, what do we do with the full bag of trash? The bag of trash is taken outside and placed either in a trash can or a dumpster. Do you know what happens to the trash once you take it outside? A large truck comes by and picks up your trash. It is called a garbage truck. Where does the garbage truck take our trash? Our trash goes to a large open space called a landfill.
  5. Say: “When the landfill becomes full of trash it is then closed and we will have to find a new place for all of our trash to go.”
  6. Say: “Sometimes we throw things away in the trash can that can be used again. They can be recycled. Recycling means taking something you were going to throw in the trash, such as a piece of paper, and turning it into something new and useful like a new book. You find a new way to use that item.”
  7. Say: “We are going to look at four things that we can recycle: paper, glass, metal and plastic.”
  8. Ask: “Do you know why we recycle?” Say: “We recycle because it helps our earth.”

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. After you review the most common items to recycle, inform the children that you are going to place all of the items on the floor. The pile on the floor represents a landfill. The landfill is full of items that can be recycled.
  2. For this activity, you will need four brown paper grocery store bags. Label the bags Plastic, Paper, Glass or Metal with words or a picture.
  3. Ask the children to help you sort the items from the landfill into the four brown paper bags. Show them the four bags and demonstrate by pulling an item out of the landfill to be recycled. If you pull a newspaper out of the landfill, show the children that it goes into the brown paper bag labeled “Paper.” Then let each child pick one item out of the landfill and place it in the appropriate bag.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Recycle: The process of taking materials that are ready to be thrown away and converting (changing) them into reusable materials
  • Landfill: A place where we bury garbage in the ground

Early Science Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Play a simple game of “Trash or Treasure” (Ask: “Is it trash, or could it be made into something else?”)
Child care providers may:
  • Try color coordinating the recycled materials and bags to make the activity easier for toddlers
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Reuse materials for an art project
Child care providers may:
  • Take a walk around the neighborhood to collect trash and recyclables

Suggested Books

  • Yasmin the Recycler by Saadia Faruq
  • Don’t Throw That Awayby Laura Bergren

Music and Movement

The 3R Song, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle by Jack Johnson

Outdoor Connections

  • Take a walk around the neighborhood or schoolyard to collect trash and recyclables. This is a great way to celebrate Earth Day in April. But you can teach the children to be “friends of the earth” any day of the year!
  • Don’t recycle those cardboard boxes and yogurt containers just yet. Before you drop them into the recycling bin, reuse these containers to build an outdoor tower or create some cool robots!

Web Resources

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