A Lesson on Litter from Our Next Generation
By BETH TURNER
Tulsa Master Recyclers Association
WORD TO THE WISE: Three and four year olds work together to solve the problem of how to hang their sign reminding others to “Stop throwing trash.”
Sometimes it takes the youngest among us to remember what and why we do what we do. I talk a lot about recycling but what about litter? In my new career with Union Schools serving as video producer for the district, I get to meet bright students working on innovative projects.
Attending Rosa Parks Early Childhood Education Center recently, I met a class of thoughtful, creative, socially-minded three and four year olds.
This past fall, on one of their outside walking adventures, the students started commenting on how much litter lined their fence. As a learning facility, teachers guide students towards group discussions and solutions. So, teacher Lauren Watts asked them, “What is trash?” Andi told her, “Leaves stay outside and the cup goes in the trash.” Taylor replied, “It makes me mad because it’s yucky and we don’t want trash on the ground. If somebody drinks it all and they throw it on the ground, they need to pick it up and put it in the trash can.”
After this conversation, Watts donned her team with plastic gloves and they all went back outside to collect the litter. However, once they’d gathered bits of paper, twine and bottles of all sorts, the children came up with the idea to make “Trash City,” an art project of building and gluing the litter together to form a city built of trash. It will soon be painted and on display in the school’s art lab.
But this wasn’t good enough for the students. They decided they needed a sign reminding people to not litter in their backyard. Again, as a learning facility, Watts allowed the students to find a solution for making the sign, what it should say and even how to hang it. “At first they used tape to tape it up but it quickly blew down. So they came back to the classroom and figured out they needed to punch holes in the sign and gather twist ties to attach it to the fence,” says Watts. “You know, it’d be easy for me to just tell them what to do, but that defeats the purpose of being a learning facility. Watching them discover, collaborate and realize that their ideas have value is priceless.”
To me, this story is a shining example of how intrinsically we all want our space where we live to be clean and pretty. It shows me that we can work together if we remember to listen and learn from each other, and treat others with the respect we want in return. It shows me that when we see something wrong in the world around us, we can and should try to do something about it. I hope more of us remember the lessons learned by and from the littlest among us.