Happy Litter-Picking Day!
I say this with one part sincerity and one part facetiousness.
Litter is the thing we all – especially those of us who work with kids – can easily dive into on Earth Day. It’s a nice, manageable, do-something-able topic. And don’t get me wrong, litter is a super-stupid phenomenon that drives me bonkers, so it makes me happy to see kids becoming invested in clean public spaces. I was a pretty avid litter-picker myself, as a kid.
The only trouble I have with litter-picking is when it becomes the token gesture we make on Earth Day.
My personal tradition is to talk genuinely with my students about the environment on Earth Day. (As a French teacher, I don’t get lots of chances to discuss sustainability with my kids.) I usually find that, as a group, many of them know quite a bit about the environmental challenges facing us today: over-use of electricity and gasoline, deforestation, climate change, endangered species, etc.
And yet, so often when we have a presentation or a project or a skit about the HELPING THE EARTH, it’s “Hey everyone! Don’t litter! Let’s pick up trash!”
Frankly, picking up trash is not going to save our butts if we poison our air and water.
I know we want to present something kid-friendly, uplifting, something that will make us feel motivated to act, instead of depressing us into defeat. The sad thing is, environmental problems are not really kid-friendly. Taken in large doses, they can be dispiriting – or downright dire.
Still, there are many manageable conversations we can have with kids about living more sustainably. My almost-five-year-old understands that bananas come from very far away to reach us (and that therefore we need to calm down about the occasional brown spot – no wasting!). He knows about sorting garbage, using the recycling bin and the compost bin. Kids can get the fact that cars pollute and walking doesn’t. They can relate to turning off the water while brushing teeth, and turning off the lights we’re not using. They can see how much trash is created when you buy overpackaged goods.
Opportunities to talk about environmental responsibility are everywhere, if you’re watching out for them.
Earth Day is important to me, as a reminder that I can always do better. It’s like New Year’s for my daily environmental habits: a new start.
Now that the weather is finally improving, I’m going to get my bike tuned up (for the first time since having kids – yikes) and start using it. I resolve to get to the Farmer’s Market for local food more often, and use my clothesline whenever the weather permits. And my kids will be involved in all those things, so we can learn better habits together.
And hey, I’m sure we’ll go litter-picking too, once in a while.
Happy Earth Day! What are your resolutions?