Activity Ideas to Teach Sustainability to Children

Approaching sustainability with optimism and excitement makes it more than just a learning subject. As we become more aware of the impact we can make as individuals, it can become a vibrant living concept that we can integrate into every aspect of our daily lives.

While we face many uncertain challenges ahead, we must inspire and empower children to be the change-makers of a brighter, more positive future. 

We’ve put together a few exciting activity ideas that align with various academic topics but still have sustainability or environmental responsibility at their heart. 

Feel free to use them as a starting point for ideas and adapt them as necessary for age and ability level.

Learning activities which explore the concept of sustainability.

Build a balloon-powered car

A bottle car.

This activity to build a balloon-powered car is a fun way to introduce the concept of renewable energy and sustainability. Children are tasked with creating a vehicle propelled by balloon power alone. This illustrates how stored energy can be converted into kinetic energy to move the car. To make the activity more engaging, it can be turned into a competition to determine whose vehicle can travel the fastest or farthest.

Students should experiment with various design elements to enhance the car’s speed and distance.

Additionally, using recycled materials to construct the car can further the sustainability aspect of the task. We made ours from plastic bottles.

This task aims to encourage children to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to environmental challenges.

Make mini mud huts

Miniature mud hut.

This activity gives students a fun, hands-on understanding of history. By recreating miniature versions of prehistoric shelters made from mud, straw and stones, children can gain insights into the lives of our ancestors and their relationship with the environment.

The project offers a tangible illustration of early humans’ ingenuity and ability to adapt to their environment. Students explore how people used the resources available to them to meet their needs.

It shows students the value of resourcefulness and simplicity and how early humans were forced to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to make the most of their available resources. It encourages students to consider how we might learn from the past and integrate more sustainable practices into everyday life.

From a sustainability perspective, constructing mini mud huts highlights the importance of using eco-friendly materials and building techniques to live harmoniously with the environment. It can also prompt discussions on modern building practices and how we could use local materials and resources more efficiently.

Build a bug hotel

Constructing a bug hotel.

This classic outdoor learning activity is a great way for children to learn about local biodiversity and ecosystems. They can discover the crucial role small insects play in our environment, from pollination to decomposition and promoting plant life.

This sustainable bug hotel activity can also deliver valuable lessons in responsibility, empathy and conservation. Bug hotels provide a fantastic platform for observing wildlife in greater detail to get children interested in their local environment.

Community art project using recycled materials

Collaborative community  art project.

Getting involved in a community art project is an excellent way for children to collaborate creatively whilst learning about sustainability. It shows the value of repurposing and reusing materials that have been thrown away into something beautiful and inspiring.

We wanted to do something related to plastic waste and its impact on our oceans. We put together a group project at a local library where local children collaborated to create a fantastic 3D whale mural from discarded bottle tops. The multidisciplinary activity involved some critical thinking in planning the project before working together to construct the colourful whale as a team.

While the final outcome is a fun, playful image, it also suggests a more profound significance. It reminds us of the importance of protecting our oceans from plastic waste.

Conduct an energy audit

Tracking energy use around the home.

Children can play the role of investigators and determine all the areas where energy is used in the home or classroom. They will examine where savings could be made and consider more sustainable alternatives to current energy use. In addition to looking at obvious areas of energy expenditure, such as appliances and electronic devices, they can also look at products and packaging and consider the energy used in manufacturing and distribution.

The task combines mathematics, science, and data analysis to determine our energy use’s impact and environmental implications. It can initiate discussions on energy efficiency and the importance of using renewable energy sources. These discussions can translate into a sense of responsibility in our actions, helping us identify areas for improvement in our energy consumption.

A visit to a farm or farmer’s market

This activity introduces children to local food sources that have a low environmental impact compared to non-local products that have a high carbon footprint.

Children can examine first-hand the sources of their food, including some of the processes involved in bringing it to their tables. It shows them the importance of supporting local businesses to help reduce the environmental impact of the food they eat.

The exercise can culminate in a meal cooked entirely from local ingredients. The meal makes for a fun and memorable learning experience which helps children explore the benefits of fresh, nutritious food choices.

Water wheel

A vibrant water wheel.

Construct a simple water wheel to show how potential energy can be converted into kinetic energy. 

To appeal to younger kids, we made our STEM project into a vibrant fairground-style wheel using plastic cups and kids’ building bricks.

The finished wheel can serve as a useful visual introduction to how we might harness energy from waves in the ocean as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

Animal Money boxes

Animal-themed, junk modeled money box.

Using discarded packaging, we introduced children to junk modelling by constructing these fun animal money boxes. 

The project offers many learning opportunities and potential stimulus for discussing sustainability issues. 

By making colourful wild animals, we can talk about endangered species and our responsibility to protect them by living sustainably. There’s also the opportunity to talk about money as a topic and how we can use the moneyboxes to save pocket money. This, of course, leads nicely into talking about the importance of delayed gratification.