Add a little eco friendly fun into early learning programs and environments with this collection of ideas shared with us by fellow early childhood educators from around the world.
Educators are exceptional at coming up with play ideas and opportunities for simple eco friendly fun, modelling how to reuse or upcycle instead of buying new and supporting children to respect the world around them by becoming active, engaged learners!
A combination of a limited budget and a push for a more sustainable environment definitely helps lead us toward creative and fun ideas.
Eco Friendly Fun In Early Learning Environments
If you’re looking for new ideas for how to upcycle or repurpose to create resources or activities in your program or environments take some inspiration from the ideas below.
I've shared some of my own ideas below and also reached out to our Empowered Educator Facebook Group members to share their fabulous (& realistic!) ideas with you and they definitely didn’t disappoint.
If you’re not already a member you can join HERE.
Upcycled Resource Ideas for Educators
Why buy when you can make! I’m impressed with how creative educators can be when it comes to upcycling.
Cushions are perfect for making reading areas comfortable and inviting but there’s no need to go to Kmart for them - why not try this idea from Kathleen. She used carpet samples to make her own. Not good at sewing? Reach out to talented parents, carers or community groups to ask for help.
Dawn upcycled an old crib, added some black board paint and magnets and now it’s a vertical building space AND a blackboard.
Tennille used pool noodles to make a water wall with tubs to collect the water and reuse - perfect for summer! And when finished the water can be used to water the garden.
Michelle had a similar idea upcycling old pipes and ping pong balls.
Narelle made these DIY sensory bags using material rather than plastic bags.
These bags are also a fun project for school age children to practise basic sewing skills.
Turn those deodorant roll on bottles into paint rollers - see how here.
Wondering where to store your pencils? Turn 3L milk cartons into pencil holders like Colleen did.
Or turn juice and tomato paste bottles into squeezy paint squirters like we did here.
Most children love getting into gardening but sometimes a big garden space can be overwhelming (for educators and parents too!) so I love Chantelle's idea of using old cans for plant pots. Let the children paint them first for another fun idea.
Something else you can do to upcycle tin cans is make a 'Music Spool' like we did here.
You could upcycle your old plant pots and turn them into a crazy scarecrow the children can decorate for the garden. See how we made ours here.
Cardboard tubes make a fun homemade pom pom drop - Thanks to Abigail for this idea.
Something else I like to do to extend this play is vary the heights, thickness and lengths of the cardboard tubes.
Or try sticking some double sided tape to one side of the roll and leaving them loose for children to create their own version too!
Cut up old sponges, wrap them in fruit bag netting and you have your own paint dabbers & stampers!
Forget about the fancy IKEA sensory table everyone seems to want, why not have a go at making your own. This creation was from Emily. You can find more DIY sensory table inspiration HERE.
Or make your own mud/sand kitchen using leftover pallets and recycled materials. I show you how step by step here.
Junk Art - Eco Friendly Activities Using Recycled Materials
Do you collect boxes and ‘junk’ from families to use for craft? Box construction and junk art is popular with children of all ages and is an awesome no cost or low cost activity.
Not sure what to make? Why not try some of these ideas.
Frosyni painted on old records - we've also used cd's then hung them in the garden to reflect the sun and scare the parrots away from our seeds!
Never underestimate the fun of plain old cardboard! Tammy used it to paint on and you can see other ways to invite play by recycling cardboard and boxes HERE.
Help children to make their own wrapping paper by raiding the paper recycle bin and using newspaper, old gift paper, used gift bags, cereal boxes - explore more ideas here.
Turn all those plastic pop top juice bottles with lids into Music Shakers before you throw them in the recycle bin. See the play here.
Do you have a collection of yoghurt lids like me? If so, why not use them in your sensory play like Debbie did in this invitation below.
Don't throw out those spice jar lids either! They make fantastic open ended materials children can incorporate into their craft and play and I always have a stash on standby.
Tonia added recycled items in her sensory bin for children to experiement with.
What would you put in yours?
Lisa made junk art a whole group experience - don’t you just love their finished creation!
Helen repurposed old containers to make a shop and her own 'mini groceries' - why buy when you can create your own versions?
Janelle used milk carton lids and empty wipe containers to practice name spelling.
Suzanne used ‘junk’ for some loose parts transient art work - what a smart idea to use the pattern on the rug.
Eco Friendly Fun In Early Learning Using Nature for Play
Another eco friendly way to play is to use the natural items around you. Why use plastic when you can use nature instead!
Tara created this invitation to play with materials from nature - what would you include in yours? There are more ideas to create invitations to play using natural materials here.
Who needs dowel to make a thread and stack resource when you can use sticks from the backyard! Very creative share and idea from Alana.
Brigid provided sticks for her children to use in their creative loose parts play and threading fun.
Nature makes an interesting textured canvas - you can’t get more eco friendly than that! Helen provided her children with leaves to use as their canvas.
You can also turn nature into painting tools like we have - it's a whole lot of sensory fun.
See how we turned giant sunflower heads into paint stampers here.
We've also had fun in the past turning these seed pods into stampers to use with our DIY paint sponge pads and they were the perfect size for little toddler hands too. Get creative and reuse what you can!
Melissa's children practiced their fine motor skills with herb cutting.
You might also like to explore our 'Florist Flower Arranging' activity here - it invites sensory, creative, fine motor and dramatic play all in one!
Or go on a treasure hunt around the for interesting flowers and leaves then children can create a crown from their nature treasures. See how we played here.
Kanwal made a group pet from nature - I love the eyes! .
Just don't turn it up the other way as I made a similar version with my children and the long stick protruded from an unfortunate place and become quite the talking (& laughing point) at parent pickup
Rachael set up a ‘make a birds nest’ invitation to play.
If you have older children this weave a bird nest project from Mother Natured looks like lots of fun too.
Or maybe everyone could get work together to build a 'bird hide' using whatever you have in the yard!
Coolibah Kids made nature the focus of their activity with a watering and seed planting station (a good way to use up those seed boxes from Woolies!)
If you are looking for more ways to introduce a little nature play into your children's day take a look at this empowered ed post - it's packed with ideas and visual inspiration!
Feeling inspired to try something different now you've seen how easy it can be to add a little eco friendly fun into early learning programs and environments? Have Fun!
Need some ideas to invite open ended play experiences using everyday and upcycled materials? Click below for a FREE Empowered Ed Visual Action Guide...
I would love to see your eco-friendly fun ideas for educators. If you’re already in my Facebook group share some photos. Not a member? Why not join us.
A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.
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