Many kids are fascinated by garbage trucks -- the same way that they're intrigued by construction equipment and race cars. Garbage trucks offer an extra educational opportunity to teach children about recycling, reuse and generally taking care of the environment. If you can inspire them to clean up around the house, too, so much the better.
Chase the Garbage Truck
Following the garbage truck around your neighborhood for a morning can be both highly entertaining and educational for any child old enough to walk until well into elementary school. If your neighborhood is walkable, follow the truck from your front door for a few blocks; most move slowly enough to make this feasible on foot. Otherwise, hop in the car and trail behind your local garbage truck as it runs its route.
Read a book to your garbage-truck-loving child for a low-key activity. Try "I Stink" by Kate McMullan, "Trashy Town" by Andrea Zimmerman or "Grandma Drove the Garbage Truck" by Katie Clark. Older kids might enjoy "Where Does the Garbage Go?" by Paul Showers or "Trash Trucks" by Daniel Kirk.
If you can't follow a garbage truck in action, you can always watch the trucks on TV. Instructional DVDs can put a visual picture to the process of trash disposal. Try "Little Hardhats: Where the Garbage Goes," "Totally Trucks: Garbage Monsters" or "How'd They Build That? Garbage Truck." There are also several computer and smartphone apps you can play with your child for a more interactive experience. "Garbage Truck!" and its companion, "Recycling Truck" offer a pair of options.
For a hands-on activity, make a trash collage. One option is to make a shape collage out of various materials and let your child assemble it into a garbage truck. Use a square for the cab, circles for wheels, a rectangle for the truck body and a triangle for the rear trash hatch. For materials, use old newspapers, cardboard -- perhaps reclaimed from cracker or cereal boxes -- scraps of craft paper or old paper bags. Another option is to make a more free-form trash collage out of found objects such as old receipts and ticket stubs, fabric from worn-out clothing, old scraps of gift wrap and ribbon and whatever else you can scrounge from around the house. Let your child paste her trash onto a piece of corrugated cardboard, posterboard or construction paper. Paste a set of wheels to the bottom of the collage and a square cab to one side to create a garbage truck in collage form.
Try this activity on a rainy day when you need some physical fun. Take a large cardboard box and set three bowls, bins or buckets inside. Call them "Trash," "Compost" and "Recycle." Make signs or labels if you like. Place the box -- which represents the garbage truck -- at one end of a room and have your child stand at the other end of the room. Let him toss bean bags, foam balls or crumpled-up pieces of paper or foil into the bowls.
Milk Carton or Shoebox Garbage Truck
Add an extra dimension to your garbage truck craft activities. A saltine cracker box or milk or juice carton, well washed, can be turned into a garbage truck with little effort. Plus, you'll be reusing something that would otherwise be tossed into the trash. Let your child paint or draw the truck's windows, doors and other features. Add segments of toilet paper rolls as wheels and cut open a flap at the back. Now your child can pick up trash and stash it in her truck as well.