Tips for Teaching Primary School Children about the Environment

Making children aware of the impact humans have on the environment is a vital part of protecting the planet for their future. What they are taught now will have direct bearing on their future attitudes and actions. Parents, carers and teachers have to find fun and easy ways to teach these environmental lessons. Primary school is one of the best places to start helping children understand about how they, and everyone else, affect the world they live on.

One of the easiest ways to make kids aware of their environment is to talk to them about litter. Litter is so common that people are almost unaware of it unless it becomes a major problem. Teaching children why litter is harmful and what they can do about it is a simple first step to environmental awareness.

Take one lesson each week and devote it to litter awareness. Kids can – using suitable protective items such as gloves and goggles – do a weekly litter patrol around the school grounds or the immediate vicinity of the school. Get them to weigh the litter each week. Keep a graph of highs and lows. Have the children create anti-littering posters to display in the school yard and in the local area. Help them record if this has any impact on the amount of litter they find each week.

Ecokidsusa.org is an excellent resource for helping children understand what litter is and why littering is a bad thing. They can find out how litter affects animals and birds as well as the local and global environment. Explaining, helping children understand, is vitally important to changing their attitudes. Before long they will be calling out adults who litter and forcing a general change in attitudes by their actions.

Alongside litter comes the idea of recycling. Using the litter picked each weeks, help the children set up a mini recycling plant at school. With suitable safety precautions and adult supervision, children can separate tin cans – learning about magnets in the process – pick out paper and cardboard and discover what is and isn’t recycled locally. A trip to the local recycling plant can go a long way to helping kids understand what happens to trash after it is popped through the hole in a recycling bin.

Kidsbegreen.org is an excellent site for teaching the idea of recycling through a variety of pages, including games, activities and fact pages. It covers pollution, recycling and conserving energy which is another great subject to broach with children as they spend so much time with electrical goods now.

Help kids recycle items in the classroom, especially for art projects. It depends on school policy as to what is allowed to be used in a class, but cardboard, paper and egg cartons are a staple of most primary schools. Help kids recycle old bits of soap into new bars (do not use recipes which call for lye as this is unsuitable for use around children) and create brand new sheets of paper from old bits of paper rubbish.

Pollution is a big issue which isn’t hard for children to grasp if explained simply. Tiki the Penguin can lend a hand with lots of fun pages to explore with the class. One good way to get kids thinking about their personal effect on the environment is to make a graph of who walks, who gets public transport and who is driven to school. Then institute a walk to school day once a week.

This requires the aid and support of parents/carers and teachers together. The idea is to start with a child at the furthest distance – within reason of course; no-one expects a child to walk a ridiculous distance to school – and to create a ‘crocodile’ of children walking to school together with a parental/carer escort. This can be done by block or just one street. The children get to school on time, get exercise and learn that not every journey has to be made by vehicle. Walking is far less detrimental to their world.

One idea which is sometimes overlooked – and ties in neatly with the pollution issue – is growing food. So much of the food on our tables is flown thousands of miles to get there. Not only is this high in pollution and fuel costs, it also means the food is less than fresh by the time it hits the table. Getting kids to learn about eating seasonal food, locally raised or grown is vital to helping reduce their carbon footprint.

Have a project which involves the children growing food which is in season. This teaches all kinds of lessons about nature and the cycles of life as well as proving to them that home-grown food tastes just as good, if not better, than anything bought from a supermarket. Trips to local growers and farmers can be added in for extra experiences to help understanding. Inhabitots.com is a good starting point for choosing what to grow.

Primary school, when children are curious and willing to try almost anything, is the perfect time to get the right ideas about protecting and caring for the environment into their heads. Fun and facts all together; couldn’t be better.