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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Sorting for Science

Henry came home from Kindergarten with some very interesting and enlightened ideas last week. I noticed that for several days in a row he asked me if he could help feed the cat and take out the trash. The requests usually came in the chaos of our morning routine (dress, eat, OUT!) or the pandemonium of dinner prep (yes, I know you are hungry, can’t you see mommy is cooking?!) I allowed Henry to feed the cat a couple of times with supervision and he made a quite mess of it. But, he is learning. Then, I let him take out the recycling and I found that his help was quite welcome.
We soon had this “aha!” conversation:
“Mom, do you know why I asked you if I could feed the cat and take out the trash?”
“Why, no Henry, I don’t.”
“My teacher thinks that we should be learn to be responsible and she told us ideas of how we can be helpful at home. Like feeding pets and taking out the trash. I can do those things,” Henry said with a shrug.
“Yes you can! Thank you very much!” I replied encouragingly. Have I mentioned that I really like Henry’s Kindergarten teacher?
I am proud that Henry is taking charge and helping around the house. I should have thought of that much sooner. And since this week Sid and his buddies are learning about recycling, I thought we should put Henry’s new skills to work and get Leo involved too.
Our local recycling program does not require that we sort our recycling. They must have a magical machine that takes care of that. However, the container of recycling in the kitchen gets quite full and it is hard to the boys to carry to the big bin out side. So, I devised a sorting system to help them learn about what kinds of materials we recycle while also making the load a little easier for them.
At first we started out slow, when I realized that the boys weren’t sure about the differences between metal, glass, paper, and plastic. Although they understand the big picture about recycling and can tell me why it is important, the boys were unable to describe the details. I needed to explain that cardboard is paper and tuna cans are metal.
So, we went back to basics. I asked Leo what “sorting” meant and he answered right away “when you put things that are the same all together.” Good boy! Then they took turns sorting each recyclable.
As they sorted, I talked about where the recyclables would go and how the boxes, cans, paper, and glass would become new things. Henry thought it was quite literal and wanted to know if the milk bottle would become a new milk bottle. I had never thought about it that way, and I was challenged to come up with a list of new items that the materials would be turned into. I really don’t know very much about what happens to our recycling. Thank goodness Leo has a fieldtrip planned to visit the local recycling center. I will be sure to blog about it that week!
I also explained that materials like plastic wouldn’t decompose if we leave them on the earth, so it was a good idea to make them into different things. Both boys immediately asked if we could bury a plastic container in the ground to see what would happen over time. I said no, but maybe I should let them do it, so they can see that the plastic will be in the ground for a long time.
When they were finished sorting, I had them reorder the bags from least to most full. It was interesting to see what we were consuming. Lots of paper and lots of plastic.
One funny but sad moment came when I explained how paper was made. I explained up how trees are mashed up into pulp and then dried in sheets to make paper. Henry was truly horrified. He said he didn’t want to use paper anymore. I am pleased and proud to say that when I explained that if we recycled more paper then perhaps we would need to use fewer trees, Henry was placated and also interested. It was a really a tangible example of recycling for him since he has a favorite climbing tree in our yard.
I talk to the boys a lot about recycling, and I realize that I may not be doing a great job of making the concept accessible to their world. I am glad that Sid the Science Kid is around to remind me that preschoolers need to get their hands on science with real-world objects from their own lives.
How do you teach your kids about recycling? Do YOU know what happens to your paper and plastic once you send it off in the truck?

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