We can thank the environmental movements of the 1970s for the catchy “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan. It is important to realize that while these events led to the creation of the EPA in the United States, and the founding of Earth Day, society has remained in the cycle of consumerism.
The following concepts can be applied to almost any type of item that creates waste from textiles to electronics, food to paper.
The first step is to stop and rethink. Do you really need it that item? Can you change the way you shop in an effort to reduce waste? Can you borrow the item? Have you thought about the whole life cycle of the product? What goes into making the item? Where does the item end up in the world?
Avoid buying products like single use plastic and that use excessive packaging.
If you are not able to refuse, reducing your usage of waste-producing goods is the next step. This is the first “R” in the traditional “reduce, reuse, recycle” model.
Reuse and Repair
Simply stated, when you reuse or repair item for it’s intended purpose instead of rushing out to replace it you avoid the waste of the original product and the waste generated from obtaining the replacement.
Some of the most well known reusable items include shopping bags, cloth napkins and paper towels, reusable coffee pods … just a few of the numerous items that can replace single-use and disposable items.
Similar to reusing, re-purposing uses the item for a different purpose. It can be something as simple as using an old metal bucket for a flower pot. The possibilities are endless!
If possible, compost organic matter as it creates methane gas in landfills. In my city, we are fortunate enough to have a city-wide composting program available. However, apartment complex landlords are not required to offer this service, especially when they opt for the dumpster instead of the bins.
Check with your municipality, town or city for your specific regulations. Many retailers offer basic e-waste recycling. Be careful when buying items that you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because something is recyclable that it’s free of consequences. While it’s great that an item can be diverted from the landfill, it doesn’t always end up being recycled. As consumers, we get tricked into buying more of an item and made not to feel bad because we think once it hits the recycling bin that the story is over.
In conclusion, the bottom line is that recycling should be the last step. When teaching and talking about the three basic R’s, the other R’s -to rethink, to refuse, to re-purpose, to repair, and to rot – are important additions to the standard Reduce, Reuse, Recycle everyone knows.
It starts with rethinking your habits and considering the whole life cycle of the product.
We love books in our house. … to the point where we have numerous book cases overflowing with books, and the kids know that I will almost never say no to buying another book. I put together a list of environmental books to introduce preschoolers to the environment and environmental issues.
15 Books to introduce preschoolers to the environment and environmental issues
1. Me … Jane by Patrick McDonnell
This book tells the story of a young Jane Goodall and her toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. The young Jane observes the world around her and aspires to grow up to help and live “a life living with and helping all animals”.
Dr. Jane Goodall is a renowned humanitarian, conservationist, animal activist, environmentalist, and United Nations Messenger of Peace. She founded the Jane Goodall Institute to empower people to make a difference for all living things
2. The Lonely Polar Bear Hardcover by Khoa Le
This sweet children’s picture book presents a moving story, set in a fragile Arctic world threatened by global warming. A little polar bear wakes up alone after a furious storm. With his mother nowhere in sight, he makes friends with a mysterious little girl and various animal companions. All of the friends come together in the magnificent polar sky. In the end the little bear sits peacefully, enjoying a winter day lit up by beautiful northern lights. Featuring exceptional illustrations from talented Vietnamese illustrator Khoa Le, The Lonely Polar Bear offers an accessible way to introduce children to climate change issues.
3. I Want to Go Green! But What Does that Mean? by Dr Jill Dunn
This fun, rhyming story for elementary-aged children explores what it means to “Go Green.” The adorable character in this beautifully illustrated picture book takes readers on a silly yet educational adventure as he discovers simple ways to conserve resources and keep the Earth clean.
4. Don’t Let Them Disappear by Chelsea Clinton
Young readers are introduced to a selection of endangered animals, sharing what makes them special, and also what threatens them. Don’t Let Them Disappear talks about rhinos, tigers, whales, pandas and more while providing helpful tips on what we all can do to help prevent these animals from disappearing from our world entirely.
5. Why Should I Protect Nature? by Jen Green
When children take a trip to the countryside, some of them are rowdy and careless, breaking tree branches and scattering trash. But if everyone acted that way, there would soon be no trees, no birds, and the fields would be ugly and unsafe for both animals and people. Part of every child’s development involves asking questions. Today, some of the most important questions kids ask are related to the natural environment. The enlightening and entertaining four-book Why Should I? series demonstrates the importance of protecting nature. Books present brief, entertaining stories that answer children’s questions and feature amusing colour illustrations on every page.
6. Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement by Stephanie Roth Sisson
As a child, Rachel Carson lived by the rhythms of the natural world. Spring after spring, year after year, she observed how all living things are connected. And as an adult, Rachel watched and listened as the natural world she loved so much began to fall silent. Spring After Spring traces Rachel’s journey as scientist and writer, courageously speaking truth to an often hostile world through her book, and ultimately paving the way for the modern environmental movement.
7. Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals
Apple cores, Bananas, bruised, Coffee grounds with filters, used. Just add to the pot, and let it all rot into Compost Stew!
From eggshells to wiggly worms, this delightful recipe in bouncy verse features items–some familiar and some not so–that are fit for the home compost bin and will nourish Mother Earth. Vibrant collage illustrations use recycled and found materials to further a timely message. And to keep young environmental chefs fully informed about composting do’s and don’ts, there’s a note in the back about what’s not fit for the bin.
A great environmental book for preschoolers as it something practical that they can easily do at home to help. It made my youngest excited about composting.
8. My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan
Our friend Earth does so many wonderful things! She tends to animals large and small. She pours down summer rain and autumn leaves. She sprinkles whisper-white snow and protects the tiny seeds waiting for spring. And just as she nurtures the habitats of all the animals — and the lands on which we live — we need to tend to and care for her, too!
9. Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis
“Portis narrates in a conversational tone — ‘Hey, water! I know you! You’re all around.’ But her story tackles a tricky cognitive task — recognizing an element that masquerades in different states…. The same element can exist in several different forms, the words imply — our senses don’t always tell us the truth about identity. Notes at the end with additional illustrations provide more information about states of matter, the water cycle, and conservation.”
— Publishers Weekly
10. Outside In by Deborah Underwood
Outside is waiting, the most patient playmate of all. The most generous friend. The most miraculous inventor. This thought-provoking picture book poetically underscores our powerful and enduring connection with nature, not so easily obscured by lives spent indoors. Rhythmic, powerful language shows us how our world is made and the many ways Outside comes in to help and heal us, and reminds us that we are all part of a much greater universe. Emotive illustrations evoke the beauty, simplicity, and wonder that await us all . . . outside.
11. Kaia and the Bees by Maribeth Boelts
Kaia is the brave type. Like hottest-hot-pepper brave. But there is one thing that scares her: BEES! And right now, thousands of bees live on her roof because Kaia’s dad is a beekeeper. Her dad says that the world needs bees and that’s why they are beekeepers. But only he goes on the roof, not Kaia — unless she can find a way to be the brave girl she always says she is.
Buzzing with story-time potential, Kaia and the Bees is an honest and relatable tale about bravery and compassion, as well as the importance of bees to our world and is a great addition to your collection of environmental books for preschoolers.
12. Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green by Eileen Spinelli
When Miss Fox shows up at school riding her bicycle, Mouse asks, “Do you have a flat tire?” “No,” Miss Fox tells her students. “I am going green!” Soon everyone in the class is working to keep the earth healthy. Mouse takes shorter showers (and does her singing after!); Bunny brings a cloth bag to the supermarket; and Possum turns the lights off when he goes out. And Miss Fox’s simple act has ripples even beyond her own students…soon the whole school starts riding their bikes–including the principal.
13. Jane: My First Jane Goodall by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara
Yes, another Jane Goodall book. I don’t even remember how it happened now, but my middle kiddo learned about Jane Goodall and was immediately amazed and inspired by her. They even dressed up as Jane Goodall for Halloween and their little sister dressed up as a monkey. It was the closest we could find to a little gorilla costume.
This board book version of Jane Goodall—from the critically acclaimed Little People, BIG DREAMS series—introduces the youngest dreamers to the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees.
14. Finding Wild by Megan Wagner Lloyd
There are so many places that wild can exist, if only you know where to look! Can you find it? Two kids set off on an adventure away from their urban home and discover all the beauty of the natural world. From the bark on the trees to the sudden storm that moves across the sky to fire and flowers, and snowflakes and fresh fruit. As the children make their way through the woods and back to the paved and noisy streets, they discover that wild exists not just off in some distant place, but right in their own backyard.
A lovely, lyrical picture book with gorgeous illustrations that explores the ways the wild makes itself known to us and how much closer it is than we think.
15. Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli
The true story of Wangari Muta Maathai, known as “Mama Miti,” who in 1977 founded the Green Belt Movement, an African grassroots organization that has empowered many people to mobilize and combat deforestation, soil erosion, and environmental degradation. Today more than 30 million trees have been planted throughout Mama Miti’s native Kenya, and in 2004 she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Muta Maathai has changed Kenya tree by tree — and with each page turned, children will realize their own ability to positively impact the future.
… and of course
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The Lorax inspired me as a child to care about environmental issues. I even have “Unless” tattooed as a reminder that unless someone cares, things won’t change. My tattoo artist, being a hippie, thought it was one of the neatest things that she had done. It is simple yet powerful.
I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
Dr. Seuss’s beloved story teaches kids to speak up and stand up for those who can’t. Published in 1971, The Lorax is an ecological warning that still rings true today amidst the dangers of clear-cutting, pollution, and disregard for the earth’s environment The Lorax allows young readers to experience the beauty of the Truffula Trees and the danger of taking our earth for granted, all in a story that is timely, playful, and hopeful. The book’s final pages teach us that just one small seed, or one small child, can make a difference.
This book is always on the top of my list of books about environment for kids, but seems like such an obvious choice that I added it at the end to highlight some new books.
There are so many great books that it was hard to narrow it down. Are there any environmental books for preschoolers that you would suggest?
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