Toddler’s First Community Service

With parenthood also comes an awareness of how much trash is left on sidewalks, parks, and nature trails. Kids love finding trash treasures, picking up a sticky bottle cap with glee as you rush towards them before they put it in their mouth. While we all know that being exposed to germs can help the little ones’ immune systems, we all have limits, and unknown sticky items left on a sidewalk is one of those limits.

As we celebrated Earth Day last week, it has me reflecting not only on my own practices, but on how I can help to instill environmental knowledge in my son. Hanging out at a playground with an abundance of trash items, I wondered if I could combine my son’s love of picking up trash with intentional teaching on recycling and litter clean up. Instead of ripping bottle caps and candy wrappers out of his hand as he screams with frustration that I am taking his treasure away, I decided to let him gather these items. I keep a clear gallon plastic bag in my purse and have him place his items in the bag. If he wants to hang on to them, he can view the trash through the bag. Allowing him to collect his trash treasures in a productive way has helped to decrease his frustration. Toddlers hate being told not do something, but if you teach them how to do it in a healthy way they are thankful and appreciative (well, not all of the time, but it sure does help!). I will say that there are some items (like glass shards and other unmentionables) that I make sure to keep him far away from.

When we get home from our outing, I place the items in the trash or recycling. In the future, I will let him sort the items into the proper containers. As he grows up, I look forward to extending this activity to community clean-up events.

Toddler picking up a piece of trash on a playground
My little guy finding a trash treasure on the playground

Talking and explaining to children the importance of recycling at a young age is important- repetition and consistency with our practice will help to instill this environmental standard in the next generation. What Earth Day traditions do you have with your children? What ways have you found helpful in teaching children about recycling?

If only I could get over the irony of using a plastic bag…

Cost: $0

Advanced Learning: Incorporate talks on minimizing the trash we create, the importance of reduce, reuse and recycle, look up community cleanups to participate in together.