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Empowering the Next Generation

Posted: April 14, 2023

By Sarah Green

#UNLITTER Fostering Environmental Stewardship in the Children of Gainesville

The great outdoors motivates every child in the world to get moving. Some kids run towards spiders, armed with a magnifying glass. Others run to the highest point of the playground in avoidance of the eight-legged creature. Regardless of what peaks their interest, these children will grow up to cherish the moments of excitement and freedom on the playground. Unfortunately, not all of them will grow up to know the power they have to become environmental leaders.

Girl teaching children in a classroom

#UNLITTER aims to bridge this gap by partnering with schools and hosting local events to empower the next generation and make a positive impact on their lives.

Seven days ahead of Earth Day marks National Environmental Education Week, a period of time celebrating the benefits of environmental education (EE) in K-12 curriculums. Here at #UNLITTER Gainesville, we have been planning special Earth Day programming for a local elementary school. Various classrooms will have the opportunity to experience interactive activities fostering a reverence for the environment.

We open by introducing kids to the magic of nature in their neighborhood with interesting tidbits about local flora and fauna. This helps kids orient the ways in which nature surrounds them. Next time they see a squirrel scurrying across the soccer field, they’ll be reminded of the lives animals are leading right in front of them.

Programs like trash cleanups are opportunities for kids to climb around into nooks and crannies of their playscape, find the most egregious piece of trash, and pick it up triumphantly while using a grabber tool resembling spy gear. In scenarios where kids are told “No, don’t touch that,” we get to say “Awesome job!”

Kids cleaning up a playground.

Once we’ve sparked the students’ interest in nature, we help them understand the power they have to protect it. Our team members teach students tangible habits that represent greater change, like composting, recycling, and crafting from repurposed materials. They are able to quantify waste and realize the variety of items ending up in landfills. With education, students become conscious. They are able to think critically about the impact of their habits.

Our goal is to present stewardship as an opportunity to make a difference, rather than an imminent responsibility. We aim to remind kids what they can do to improve the world. We avoid negativity about things students can’t yet change, like pollution from gas-power cars or large corporations.

Keeping focus on their local environment inspires a more personal connection with nature in hopes of cultivating a lasting passion to protect the planet. Programming like trash clean-ups actively makes a child feel like a guardian of their neighborhood. Young kids love having leadership and volition — think back to how everyone in your elementary school class was eager to be a line leader, or even a safety patrol. .

Most our #UNLITTER team here in Gainesville our youth outdoors as the source of our passion for protecting their planet. I remember counting the trash I saw while I rode the school bus. Now, I am grateful for the opportunity to empower young children to feel capable of making a positive impact. Students participate in #UNLITTER events and come back eager to tell us stories of how they recently made a difference, such as cleaning up trash with their grandmother while bike riding, offering a glimmer of excitement about the positive feeling that students can have about their relationship with nature.

If you want to plan an event like ours in your classroom, or you know a teacher who might be interested, reach out to us. Tell us where you are and what you need, and we'll help you make a great experience for the kids who care about the environment.

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