It’s Clean Up Australia Day! Here’s how to safely get the kids involved

Clean Up Australia 2017

It’s Clean Up Australia Day this week (I know that doesn’t read right but Schools Clean Up day is Friday March 3 and the public Clean Up Australia Day is Sunday March 5). I wanted to share my ideas for making it a safe, fun and productive experience for kids.

Close to 1 million Aussies will get out there and remove tonnes of rubbish from parks, waterways, beaches and those lonely windswept places where plastic bags go to hang out on fences.  There’s still time to register a clean-up site or join the crew at a registered site in your neighbourhood — got to the Clean Up Australia Day website to get started.

Safety first

I have no qualms about letting my children pick up rubbish and encouraged them to do so from toddler-age (once they’d passed the “suck it and see” phase). We do have an understanding, however: they have to check with me before they pick anything up. This rule can keep them safe when we’re out and about, but when you’re cleaning up a whole area, it’s best to stay close and do the work together.

Take a plastic rake and comb the area for any broken glass or other grotty things, then give the kids the green light to start collecting rubbish. At five and three, my children don’t really get on with garden gloves so I will be taking my favourite organic hand sanitizer and reminding them not to pick up cigarette butts.

Remember to have a chat before starting about not playing with the rubbish, eating or putting hands in mouths until they have been washed.

You may see in this picture from a few years ago that Edith was not wearing shoes. This is class-A dumb (we had started on the beach and I guess I forgot). Gumboots are great footwear if for no other reason than they make everyone feel like working.

clean up Australia day with kids

Plastic bags can be difficult for kids to fill so I suggest buckets, kid-sized wheelbarrows or trolleys for collecting trash. Just remember to wash them with some kind of disinfectant such as tea-tree or eucalyptus oil in a water-vinegar mix.

Finally, don’t forget the natural sunscreen and hats!

Make it fun and productive

If you have small children, do not expect to be the one who picks up the most rubbish! (I imagine it is the opposite with tweens and teens.) I know my kids simply love that they are doing something with Mum and Dad, and we will probably pick up less rubbish than I would on my own, but the day is meant to be educational and fun, as well as making a difference.

Also know that your kids will have a shorter productive period. In other words, they will get bored with collecting rubbish and want to play. So be it. Stretch it out for as long as you can but know when to call it quits!

Some ideas for making it fun include talking about what you find and how it could have got there, plus ways to stop it from happening again. Talk about the colours, or make it a game, pretend to be clean-up robots or aliens.

Let children know they don’t need to fill a huge bag to have done a great job. I tell my kids we are a special unit and our job is to focus on picking up the little pieces of plastic that others have missed. These plastic particles are deadly to marine life when they eventually make their way to the sea so we get the satisfaction of knowing that each small piece we collect has saved a fish, bird or turtle and therefore we are superheroes. I ask them to point out cigarette butts so I can pick them up and prevent them from leaching arsenic and other chemicals into waterways. They seem to find bossing me around really fun…

Finally, finish the clean up with a reward. Nothing motivates my children more than a cooked breakfast picnic followed by a big play at the park and potentially an ice-cream.

That’s it from me, now it’s over to you… Do you do Clean Up Australia Day?

Share your Clean Up Australia Day tips in the comments!



  1. Julieane Hernandez says

    Hi Jo, We tried this last week together with my kids and they really enjoyed it. We focused on picking up the little pieces of plastic and I explained to them not to pick up the cigarette butts. Thanks for this awesome tips.

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