Teaching Kids About Plastic Pollution: Three Tips for How to Get Started

If we want to change the future of plastics in our environment, we have to pass our knowledge along to the next generation. Teaching children about pollution, global warming and what they can do to help is critical for our success in creating positive change. Here are 3 key suggestions for parents, teachers and anyone with children in their lives who wants to teach kids about plastic pollution but is unsure of how.

  1. Keep it age appropriate: Where a child is at developmentally should determine how you share information about plastics in the environment. For example, a younger child may not have a good grasp on what plastic is and what products are made with plastic. For a child at this age, I would suggest a game with pictures of different products that the child is familiar with. Make a plastic and non plastic box and have the child sort the products into the boxes. After they have finished, look through the pictures in each box with the child and go over what they got correct and incorrect and use this opportunity to answer any questions about what plastic is. When they have a more clear picture of what plastic is, you can begin talking about the ways that our use of plastic is harming the environment.
  2. Do not over protect them: While it is extremely important to present information that is age appropriate, we must also recognize that in order to get children to grow up truly caring about the environment, they must be given the truth in some form. Parents and teachers in my life have often talked about feeling conflicted about keeping their children’s worlds carefree and innocent, and also wanting to be honest with their children. The reality is, this is the world that these children have been born into and plastics in our environment are a very real problem. Children can handle this information, and hiding the information from them actually may make them feel less powerful in making positive change once they do get older and learn about it. It is important to make it clear that this is a problem, however adults should not use scare tactics with children. My suggestion is to present the information at their level: this is what plastic is, these are the ways it gets polluted, and these are the negative impacts of that pollution. Then, perhaps the most important step is to finish with what they can do to help. Which brings me to my third tip...
  3. Empower them to help solve the problem: You have now presented a problem to a child or a group of children. It may feel scary, sad or overwhelming to them, but at its core it is simply a problem. To increase a child’s comfort with this problem and topic, and to increase their caring and engagement, we need to give them options to help them solve the problem. For very young kids, this is a good time to talk about recycling, possibly creating a similar picture and box game to the one I suggested in my first tip, this time sorting what can be recycled. For older kids, it can be a good time to discuss over consumption and ask them to do an activity evaluating how much plastic they consume and how they can cut back. No matter the age or the activities you choose, always end with something empowering. If you would like more specific suggestions, I will be posting another blog entry with more specific ideas to get kids involved and empower them in helping with the problem of plastic pollution.

Here are some links to good resources for teaching kids about plastic pollution