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  • Writer's pictureAmy Wung Tsao

Talking Trash for Earth Day Science!

Updated: Apr 13

A Note from Amy

Recently, my husband and I were taught our big kids that you can't divide a number by zero. My 5 year old didn't quite follow the discussion, but he did pick up a new favorite word: undefined. As in, 1 divided by zero is undefined. 


He’s getting a lot of mileage out of his new favorite word. 


“What did you and Daddy get at the grocery store?” 

Crescent rolls and undefined! 


“What did you play at recess?” 

Undefined! 


Maybe I should be using this word more often myself. 


What are my goals for 2024? 

Undefined! 


What picture book idea will I work on next? 

Undefined! 


Mom, what's for dinner? 

UNDEFINED!


 

Earth Day Science: Garbage, Litter, and the 3R’s: Reduce, Recycle, ReUse


“Just because you’re trash, doesn’t mean you can’t do great things.

It is called a Garbage CAN… not a Garbage CANNOT.”

~ Oscar the Grouch



Two people wearing matching blue t-shirts, one person is throwing away trash into a bag held open by the other.
Credit: OCG Saving The Ocean (@oceancleanupgroup) on UnSplash

Trash! We humans make a lot of it every day. So it’s a really visible and tangible way to get kids into environmental science


Check out these videos, picture books, and easy prep activities for curious preschoolers, kindergarteners, 1st and 2nd graders - all about the environmental impacts of garbage and litter, and how to reduce, reuse, and recycle. 


(Just a reminder - I am never paid to mention any of these resources; there are no affiliate links.)


 

Videos




from MysteryScience (YouTube)

Mystery Doug explains how most garbage goes to landfills, and some pros and cons about landfills. Then he talks about garbage more generally, including other ways (composting, recycling, using less disposable items) to make garbage “safer, less smelly, and just create less of it!”




from MysteryScience (YouTube)

I love this video because it doesn’t talk down to kids with oversimplifications about plastic and recycling. It really gets into the nuances of how sometimes, plastic is a really helpful material that is better for the environment, and sometimes it’s really damaging to the environment! 


 

Books



Cover illustration of raccoon wearing green cake and black mask, and a hedge hog riding on a red tire swing. The raccoon is holding a bucket with a recycling symbo on it, and the hedgehog is holding a stick. There are stars bursting out of the background behind the tire swing.

written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin


Every weekend, Manny and Gertie put on their superhero capes and fight imaginary bad guys. But when they meet some turtles at the park in real danger from litter, can they come to the rescue? This one is perfect to talk to a preschooler about how litter affects all of us!



Cover illustration of a clear plastic bottle, waving and smiling at the reader. The bottle is on a factory conveyer belt with other bottles.

written by Alison Inches, illustrated by Peter Whitehead


Written as a plastic bottle’s diary, you’ll learn all about how plastic bottles are manufactured, then shipped, sold, used, reused, and finally recycled into a fleece jacket! 



Cover illustration of a dark-skinned woman in purple patterned clothing and hair scarf, picking up a blue plastic bag off the ground. Goats are grazing and the sun is setting behind her.

written by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon


This gorgeous book tells of a group of women who decided to make something beautiful out of the plastic bags littering their village. May this true story inspire your kids to find creative new uses for the disposable things in their life!


 

Activities



If you just need to put some movement and fun into recycling, maybe your kids will be inspired by this PE teacher’s  trick shots into the recycling bin. And seriously, that “Assist” shot at the end is pretty impressive!



Preschool-age white child in a striped t-shirt sitting at a white table in front of 3 small baskets, the kind typically used for berries. The closest basket is labeled “garbage.” The child is putting small white cards with pictures on them into the baskets.

Play the Garbage Sorting Game from No Time For Flashcards


You could do this after snack time with your actual trash. Or if this is an activity your kids might want to repeat a few times, you could make game cards and trash & recycling “bins” for sorting.





Art + science + upcycling!

Did you ever make Shrinky Dink art as a kid? Well Science Max shows us how to make the same kind of shrinking plastic art with Plastic #6.




Model Recycling from Science Buddies


Sorting through mixed paper, plastic, and metal in the mixed recycling bin is a truly tricky engineering problem. Why not let your kid try to design a solution? Check out this video for some ideas on building a model recycler!


 

I hope these Earth Day science ideas spark curiosity for you and the kiddos in your home or classroom. Happy Earth Day!


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