April is Earth Month, which makes it the perfect time to teach preschoolers the “Three R’s” of eliminating waste: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. These picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, show children that caring for planet earth is fun and rewarding as well as necessary. The stories they contain inspire conservation efforts, art projects and science exploration.
Ada’s Violin, by Susan Hood – Based on the true story of a musician in Paraguay who taught a group of children to play instruments made from recycled materials, this picture book shows how trash can be transformed into hope. It may even inspire children to create some recycled instruments of their own.
Here Comes the Garbage Barge, by Jonah Winter – In March of 1987, the town of Islip, New York ran out of places to store its garbage and sent a barge out to sea looking for a place to offload the trash. Another picture book based on a true story, “Here Comes the Garbage Barge” helps children understand that garbage does not just disappear once it leaves their home or school trash cans. It enters a landfill where it may take decades to decompose. All of the artwork for the book was created using materials salvaged and repurposed from trash cans and town dumps, which could be the starting point for a classroom trash to treasure art project.
Compost Stew, by Mary McKenna Siddals – Another book with illustrations made from recycled materials, Compost Stew lists the “ingredients” for compost in an A to Z rhyming format. The end materials provide a “recipe” mixing compost at home or school.
I Had a Favorite Dress, by Boni Ashburn – Every child (and their parents) can relate to wearing a favorite item of clothing long after it has grown too small. Luckily for the girl in the story, her creative mama remakes the dress into something new each time it is outgrown.
Las Tres Erres – After learning what happens to all of the trash that people generate, Pablo and his friends learn how they can follow the “Three R’s” to reduce their impact on the planet. The book is written entirely in Spanish, and includes directions for several science and art projects children can do after reading the book.
What a Waste, by Jess French – This nonfiction title is packed with information about fossil fuels, pollution and deforestation, among other earth important topics. Taken all together, it is a bit much for a young audience to absorb. In small doses, however, the intriguing pictures and straightforward, short and simple paragraphs explain complex science for preschoolers. Teachers can take just one topic, such as food waste or single use plastics, and use the text in “What a Waste” as a jumping off point for further exploration.
After reading these titles, teachers may want to gather an interesting array of reusable items – egg cartons, glass jars, old jewelry, keys, fabric scraps or old clothing, broken shoelaces, cardboard boxes – and let the children create, tinker and build. However, in the spirit of Earth Day, try to make sure that once the children are finished reusing items, they remain recyclable by refraining from glitter, plastic bottle caps or other common reusable, but non-recyclable items.