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Thinking outside the cardboard box


If you want your children to grow up to be environmentally conscious, it's important to start educating them about recycling as early as possible.

Think outside the cardboard box and look at ways in which the whole family can get involved in recycling and upcycling household objects, while keeping it child-friendly.

Upcycling is more than a mere trend. When we reuse just a fraction of the things in our immediate environment, we significantly reduce waste in landfills.

Talk to your child about recycling and upcycling, what it means and why it is better for our environment. Better still, show them that recycling can be a lot of fun...


Start early with your child and expose them to the concept of recycling so that it is a natural, everyday activity that becomes as habitual as putting rubbish in the bin.

Set up recycle bins in an area where your child sees you using them in the kitchen, a utility area or even in the garage. Introduce the language around recycling early so that your child is familiar with the concept, and make a habit of regularly pointing out what you're doing so that they connect the language with the activity: "This plastic bottle gets recycled in the green bin'', or "The newspaper goes in the blue bin".

Before you know it, your child will be coming to you with an item and asking whether it goes in the green or blue bin and then they will simply learn where it goes.

For younger children, using green and blue recycling bins makes it an easy, fun activity with colours and materials. Even when they're as young as two, they can play a matching game and select which items go into which bin.

You could even make small piles of recycling and have your child try to match the material with the proper bin. If you have older children, they could be in charge of recycling and show their younger siblings how to help.

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Don't forget that accessibility and location are key. The more convenient it is to recycle, the more likely children are to do it, so as well as having marked bins in the kitchen, place a small box in your child's bedroom for recycling paper and put a small container in the bathroom for collecting cardboard toilet roll tubes.

Children will always participate and engage more when they are interested and invested in an activity so encourage their participation by making recycling fun.

Encourage their creativity by suggesting that they make personalised bins and decorate the recycling bins in whatever way they choose - you will be amazed by their designs, whether it be taping pictures of recyclable items on to the bins, painting them in bright colours or even having a bright glittery pink bin with stickers. It is a particularly good reminder for younger children when the bins are decorated with images of what goes inside.

It can also be fun to make a goal chart above each bin to try and see how much you've recycled in a week.


You can also recycle by repurposing or upcycling objects in your home.

We live in a world where plastic toys dominate the shelves of toy shops, but you may be surprised to observe how much pleasure children take from making and creating their own toys - they don't always need to be commercial.

Cardboard boxes have long been the million dollar toy: accessible, simple and yet adored by children. These 'un-toys' have their own cachet as they can metamorphose into the best toys.

Remember that children love to create and explore different mediums and textures and they don't need it to be a specific item as it will be their own individual creation.

Embrace process over product with your child and encourage them to build robots, castles, kitchens, dens or whatever they choose from cardboard boxes.

Once they have created the finished masterpiece, your child will have a real sense of achievement which will not only provide hours of fun and entertainment but is rewarding and builds their confidence and self-esteem.

At the same time, your child is problem-solving as they work out how to design their vision and make it a reality. Plus, they are learning about concepts such as size and scale and weight and balance.

Cardboard boxes in any size will provide more fun than you can ever imagine for your child as they learn through explorative play.

For younger children, cardboard boxes make great sensory boxes where they can take turns hiding an object in the box and then their friends guess what's inside using only their sense of touch.

Water bottles or old washing-up liquid containers are a close runner-up as they can become rockets, water squirters in the summer, a bubble blower, skittles, bird feeders or garden planters. Encourage your child to make their own skittles. They just need to take six large water bottles, fill them with different coloured water (use food colouring) and stack them in the garden. They then take 10 steps back and take turns throwing a tennis ball to knock them over - younger children love repetition so this simple game can provide hours of entertainment.

Egg cartons and towelling or toilet roll tubes are also a great resource for arts and crafts. With the tiny little compartments already built in, egg cartons are great for sorting, playing, cutting and combining, and can also be used for growing cress once your child is old enough to watch the seeds germinate.

Towelling and toilet roll tubes make wonderful dolls too - your child may wish to create a whole family. They also make a great marble run, especially if you have some extra-long poster tubes. It is such a simple and fun activity for children as they develop their fine motor skills and eye tracking whilst they explore angles and gravity and discover their effect on speed.

Using recyclable household objects to upcycle is a great way to show your child that we don't always need to buy new toys when we can make them at home instead. Get the wheels in their head turning, nurture their innovation and creativity and get upcycling.

Some simple ideas to repurpose and upcycle household items with your child

• Use jam jar tops of different sizes for sorting and stacking

• Yoghurt cartons are great for stacking and building pyramids

• Decorate the garden with old CDs as sun catchers

• Use egg cartons to make caterpillars and grow cress

• Old cans can be decorated with colourful paper to make pencil/pen holders

• Old socks, the clean and lonely ones of course, make great puppets

• Use old baby clothes to dress your child’s dolls

• Take a trip to the local charity shop and donate their old clothes, toys and books

• Read Don’t Throw That Away! by Lara Bergen and Earth Friendly Crafts by Kathy Ross

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