Lessons learned from a broken crayon

Help children think about ways they could use the reduce idea.

It’s almost time to go back to school and that often means lots of new school supplies including crayons of course. But what about the old crayons that are leftover from last year and have lost their appeal over the summer?  Those broken and unwanted crayons can help you teach your child some important life skills and give you both a chance to enhance your science literacy and your creativity.

 It’s estimated that about 12 million crayons are made every day in the U.S. If you have older children, challenge them to use their math skills to find out how many crayons are made in the course of an entire year.  Once they’ve figured that out, encourage them to find the population of the U.S. and figure out how many crayons that would be per person. According to Michigan State University Extension, the majority of crayons are a petroleum base product and therefore take many years to biodegrade in landfills when they are thrown out.  Teaching children about recycling can be challenging since it is an abstract concept for young children.    Crayons are something that children are familiar with and can identify with so it makes a good example. Explain to children that there are different approaches they could take with broken crayons by learning the three R’s of the environment. The three R’s are reduce, reuse and recycle. 

Help children think about ways they could use the reduce idea.  Share crayons with a sibling instead of buying two sets would be one idea but maybe not one that is easy to implement.  Another idea would be to use a 24 count box instead of a 64 count box so that eventually the total number of crayons to get rid of is smaller. Using last year’s box of crayons rather than buying a new one is a good idea that will reduce the number of crayons that end up in the landfill. Your children will probably have other ideas that will help them to understand the concept of reducing the amount of trash your family contributes to landfills.

Using last year’s crayons might also be considered reusing them but there are some other creative ways you can use them as well.  This is a good time to put your creativity to the test and see what ideas you can come up with to use those old crayons.  One idea is to put them in a lightly greased mini-muffin pan to melt them in an oven set at a low temperature to make a new rainbow crayon.  Putting different colors in the same muffin cup can create new colors and you can encourage your child to guess what new color they will get if they mix particular colors.  This process of making a guess and then checking to see if they were right sets the stage for basic science literacy.

Another idea will take you back to your own childhood by using a pencil sharpener to make multi-color crayon shavings.  Then use an iron on low heat to melt them between two sheets of wax paper.  A third idea might be to “paint” with your old crayons by covering an electric pancake griddle with heavy duty foil and then putting a smooth piece of paper on top of the foil.  Heat the griddle to a low temperature and then use the old crayons to paint a picture on the warm paper. If your creativity is running low, ask a friend or check Google for more ideas of ways you can reuse those old crayons. ''

The third R stands for recycling.  Recycling is a process to change materials into new products to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, air and water pollution and the need for conventional waste disposal. It’s not always possible or cost effective to recycle items into the same item.  However you can recycle crayons into new crayons.  There is even a national Crayon Recycle Program where school children from around the country collect and recycle broken crayons.  LuAnn Forty, founder of the National Crayon Recycling Program has been in the crayon recycling business for 18 years.  In that time, kids in schools and other organizations around the country have participated in community service projects and collected more than 92,000 pounds of unwanted crayons keeping them out of landfills.

If your children really get interested in becoming earth friendly, you can learn more about crayons that are not petroleum based.  A newcomer on the crayon market is soy based crayons.  Next time you go shopping with your children; why not take a minute to look in the crayon section to see if there are any soy crayons.  You can also use this as a great opportunity to teach your children how to read labels.  Check out the Michigan Soy Bean Promotion Committee for educational resources and information about soy crayons. Crayons are a good way for youth to think about their carbon footprint and to consider things they can do to be more earth friendly. 

Math, problem solving, creative thinking, science literacy, decision making, reading labels and community service!  Who knew an old broken crayon could teach children so many valuable lessons?