I’ve shown my students the pictures of the trash continent floating in the ocean. Whenever there is trash outside our classroom, I remind them we don’t want it to end up in the sea. Still, I often walk by trash at school, either disgusted at the prospect of touching it or too much in a hurry to stop and pick it up.
Yet I ask kids to pick up trash all the time.
Today the irony of this finally hit me. How can I expect kids to pick up trash that doesn’t belong to them if I don’t do it myself? I’m not too good to keep plastic out of the mouths of sea animals, no one should be. So, at the end of our jogathon today, instead of goading the kids to pick up all the plastic water cups forgotten around the track, I did it myself. For two laps, I collected all the plastic I saw and made a show of throwing it away. Soon I had helpers.
The kids saw me do it and showed enthusiasm to follow suit, versus the regular “if I have to” or “but it’s not mine” response when I just tell them to pick it up themselves. I was so enthused that soon I was carrying a bag and a long-distance trash grabber with two very eager helpers I didn’t even know tagging along and other kids scouring on their own around the track.
So simple, but so easy to forget. We can’t expect kids to do unpleasant tasks for the good of others if we don’t do the same ourselves.
While I may not have led by example until today, I have done my best to educate my class about the importance of respecting our planet. Recently on CNN Student News, my class learned about Living Lands and Waters, a nonprofit that cleans up waterways, and were in awe of the amount of trash pulled from the Mississippi River. Many students expressed their desire to help– they thought it sounded fun to see how much trash they could amass from waterways in Sacramento.
Likewise, they loved the story about this trash orchestra from Paraguay in a recent Scholastic News read aloud. When they discovered we could listen to the orchestra on YouTube, they were beyond delighted. Unsurprisingly, they clamored for the opportunity to create similar instruments.
All this is to say, there is a lot of hope for the future. Our children care about the planet, but they need to see adults lead the way.