When I was in third grade my teacher cast me as planet Earth in a class play about protecting our planet. It left a lasting impression on me and I think is part of the reason I am passionate about conservation. I hope introducing my kids to conservation and why it’s important so young will leave a lasting impression on them.

I strive daily to conserve whenever I can. I turn off the water while brushing my teeth and washing dishes, I use glass containers to pack lunches and take a refillable glass water bottle with me wherever I go. I bring reusable bags with me to the grocery store, and I clean my kids with wash cloths instead of paper towels or napkins after their meals. I’m always turning off lights at home (we even play at the house with no lights on when it’s a sunny day), and unplug appliances that aren’t used frequently. I recycle everything that is allowable in our local recycling plant.

I know by doing these things everyday I’m setting a great example for my children to learn to do the same. I hope these Earth Day STEM activities to begin to teach my children to love and care for this planet as much as I do. 

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Earth Day STEM activities for kids

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle STEM activities for kids

Most people have heard the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle mantra. I wanted to introduce these concepts on to my children at a young age. We’ll teach our kids to reduce our waste first and foremost, then we reuse as many items as possible, and lastly we recycle what can’t be reused.

These three simple, fun and easy activities can all be done with materials you already have around the house. I recommend these activities for children ages 3+. There are no major safety concerns with these three activities. The 3+ age recommendation is primarily for the sensory bottle activity. Small pieces such as buttons, died beans can be choking hazards for children under 3.


Reduce: How much water?

This simple experiment is designed to teach kids how much water they are wasting if they leave the sink on while brushing their teeth. We can reduce our water usage by turning off the sink while brushing our teeth.

We also learned how to care for our indoor plants by reusing the collected water to water our houseplants.

Materials needed:

  • Sink
  • Bucket
  • Measuring cup
  • Plants

Procedure:

  1. Place bucket under faucet in the sink
  2. Turn sink on to wet toothbrushes for brushing and leave it on the whole time they brush
  3. Turn off the water when the kids are done brushing and rinsing their mouths

    We collected 1.5 gallons of water while the kids brushed their teeth!

  4. Measure how much water was collected
  5. Explain to your child how much water was collected (compare to a gallon of milk to put the size in perspective) and how water is a limited resource. We have to conserve water whenever possible by doing things like turning off the water while brushing our teeth.
  6. Use the collected water to water indoor or outdoor plants around your house.

What Happened:

Our children learned that water is a valuable resource that shouldn’t be wasted. The kids also learned that rather than pour leftover water down the sink, they can use leftover water to water plants. When my kids left the water running while brushing their teeth they collected 1.5 gallons of water. It was enough to water 9 indoor plants at our house.


Reuse: Sensory bottle made reusing materials

In this experiment your children will make a stimulating and soothing musical sensory bottle while learning to reuse household materials.

Materials needed:

  • Empty plastic water bottle
  • Funnel or paper that is ready to be recycled
  • Items that are ready to be trashed or found in your yard such as:
    • Long shelf dry food items (like rice or beans). Bonus for reusing contaminated food that can’t be eaten (like our rice after my daughter got into a bag and spilled it everywhere)
    • Sticks, twigs or leaves from the yard
    • Sand or shells collected from the beach
    • Extra buttons that come with shirts that you don’t need
    • Duct tape

Procedure:

  1. Rinse and dry a used plastic water bottle
  2. Place the funnel or recycled paper rolled into a funnel shape into the top of the bottle
  3. Collect items for reuse from around the house and yard
  4. Drop in reuse items found around the house

    Sticks can be added one by one

    Add rice using the funnel

  5. Screw the cap on the bottle and cover with tape so it can’t be opened.
  6. Let kids play and explore with the relaxing and hypnotizing fun sensory bottle

What happened:

Your child learned that just because things have been used once doesn’t mean they have to be thrown away. We can reuse many items in the house and yard for other purposes. Today we were able to reuse a plastic water bottle, sticks, rice, and buttons to make a sensory bottle.

Sensory bottles can be used to calm frustrated children and entertain them when they are bored. Focusing on the items in the bottle is a great distraction and will pull their attention from what was frustrating them or from boredom. This bottle is a musical sensory bottle and will make a soothing rainstick noise from the rice filtering through the sticks.

The children also practiced using their fine motor skills to collect and add the items to the bottle.


Recycle: Sorting Trash and Recycling

In this activity we teach kids about recycling by showing them common household waste and letting them learn and help sort the recycling from the waste.

Materials needed:

  • Recycle bin
  • Trash bin
  • 5 recyclable items (suggestions: clean and empty can, cereal box, milk carton, egg carton, newspaper)
  • 5 trash items (suggestions: food waste, used napkin or tissue, dirty rags, broken toy, and hair or nail clippings)

Procedure:

  1. Mix the 5 recyclable and 5 trash items on your table
  2. Explain to your child that we can recycle plastics, paper, glass, cardboard and aluminum and that we throw away food waste, used napkins or tissues, non-reusable bathroom products, non-reusable household products.
  3. Ask your child to separate out the recyclable items from the trash items
  4. Have your child place the recyclable items in the recycling bin (while counting the items – bonus math practice!) and place the trash items in the trash bin (while counting them)

What happened:

My kids have seen us take out the trash and recycling, but have never helped in the process. Now they can take more interest in helping us separate out the recycling from the trash and understand the difference.

The kids also got to practice fine motor skills with sorting and placing in bins and math skills by counting the recycling and trash items.

You can also take time during this activity to explain why we can recycle certain items and not others and why it is important. I would explain that we reduce and reuse first and recycle next. We can only recycle items that can be remade into another product, such as glass, paper and cardboard, metal, wood, and plastics. Food waste can not be recycled into a new product so we have to throw it away (or start a compost pile!). Also items contaminated with human waste (like used tissues) should be thrown away and not recycled.

We are very lucky to live in a community where recycling is easy. It is collected weekly from our curb, so all we have to do is know what they allow to be recycled and set it aside every week for collection. Hopefully this is available where you live too.


I hope you and your children we able to learn and share about why it is important make conscious decisions at home to help protect our planet and its limited resources. Earth Day is a great day to reflect on what makes our planet special and what we can do to help protect it through our actions everyday. Our mantra is reduce first, reuse second, and recycle third. Every little bit helps!

My family enjoyed the activities and conversations on Earth Day and I hope yours does too. Let me know what you did to celebrate Earth Day this year! 🙂

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