‘…The child could be the hope of our future, the hope of a better future than had ever been in the past….’
Maria Montessori, Education as a Help to Life
Montessori advocated that adults look to children as guides for a superior world and brighter future; that the ideas, thoughts and opinions of the next generation should be heard, valued and actioned.
With our environmental focus this month, in collaboration with Lilly Platt, the winner of the International Montessori Award for Commitment to Sustainability, The Trash Detectives, who gained special recognition for their sustainability work and Matias Ioannides, shortlisted nominee, this article highlights the amazing initiatives of children who are working hard to protect our future world.
I’m Lilly Platt and rubbish changed my life!
It all started back in 2015 when I had moved to the Netherlands from London. I was on a walk with my grandpa, and we noticed all the rubbish and plastic thrown on the ground. We decided to pick it up and at the same time practice counting in Dutch. I got to 91 pieces in just 10-15 minutes of walking!!
Grandpa told me that anything that falls to the ground will somehow make its way to the waterway and eventually the sea. It could take a day, a week, a month or even a whole year but it will make its way to the sea and the plastic soup.
Plastic is made from fossil fuels and is not biodegradable. It just stays until it can’t hold its original form and then breaks into smaller pieces and those breakdown even smaller, these small pieces are called microplastic and even smaller picaplastic. In fact, no one really knows how small plastic can break down to.
I started finding out all I could about the plastic soup and found out all the disastrous effects plastic has on the environment and the animals that live in it, on the land, in the sea and in the air.
I decided from that moment that I would pick up every bit of plastic I saw. That was when ‘Lilly’s Plastic Pickup’ was born. I am close to having picked up 200000 pieces of plastic.
When I do a pickup at the end of the week all my pickups are sorted into categories, cans, bottle, cigarette packets, sweet packets, straws, bags, and the pickup is counted and noted for the total and a picture is taken and put on social media so people can see just what is going on out there.
I was approached by the Plastic Pollution Coalition to be their Youth Ambassador and I now encourage people to reduce their plastic usage and say no to single use plastic.
I learnt about the 5 Rs, reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse single use plastic and refill your reusable water bottle.
The best way to start reducing your plastic use is to start with the big 4 – coffee cups, plastic bags, plastic straws, and plastic water bottles. All of these can be replaced with reusable ones.
Going into Plastic Free July should be moment of looking through your daily life and seeing the swaps you can do for plastic. See what you can do every day:
- going to the supermarket – be prepared with cloth bags for vegetables and fruit, bring your own containers for delicatessen items
- in the kitchen – stop using plastic sponges and swap to coconut scrubber, save your glass jars for storage
- in the bathroom – use a shampoo bar
My challenge to you is to pick up at least 3 pieces of plastic every day as picking up a piece means you will be potentially saving an animal’s life.
These small actions may not seem much, but all small actions together make big actions and that is how we will help save the planet. When I met Jane Goodall for the first time, she told me ‘never stop and never feel your actions don’t count’.
Founder Lilly’s Plastic Pickup
The Trash Detectives,
Vincerola Montessori Preschool, Germany
In past decades, the earth’s population has been slowly recognising that the planet faces significant problems related to the ability to continue thriving and sustaining future generations.
At Vincerola, we have been implementing aspects of sustainability by facilitating recycled material as part of our everyday resources. These recycled materials come from our own supplies packaging, such as boxes, plastic wrappings, kitchen packaging supplies, milk tetra-packs, old glue sticks, bottle caps and bottles etc.
For this, our kitchen crew and the staff who unpack the deliveries, carefully prepare (disinfect, wash and store) the resources and place them into our storage room, which we call ‘upcycling room’.
This material is then shared amongst the classrooms and placed into the creativity corner, so children have the opportunity to create. Ramona, our chef says, “sometimes children come to me directly to pick up tetra-packs, and I am happy to do it”.
Currently, children are working on a common goal – they want to create a castle. Of course, this must be an Elsa castle for some children, but it has to be a knight’s castle or an enchanted castle for others. They are still discussing it, but the bottom line is that they are crafting things according to their imagination. One of the children said, “since today is my birthday, I will be the queen of the castle”. Another boy expressed, “knights always protect the castle, I am a knight”.
The prepared environment plays a big role in our setting. The practitioner follows Montessori’s principles and becomes a facilitator striving for a prepared environment and bearing in mind a balanced order in the classroom. Children constantly demonstrate and express their thoughts and feelings through arts and crafts while developing their creativity and imagination skills by interacting, exploring and transforming recycled materials into art.
Montessori believed children absorb their environment, and I believe including these type activities as part of the child’s daily routine can allow children to absorb sustainability early on in life. At the end of the day, I asked children “do you think trash is trash?” A girl looked at me and said, “Noooooo, we can do things with it”.
Cyprus beaches are beautiful, diverse in textures and colours and fall under the lowest waste categories. Nevertheless, a walk through any popular beach with a critical eye is enough to see and collect a measurable amount of plastic waste and spot sand grain size floating plastic debris at the sea. It is a global problem, and Cyprus is not exempt.
Matias’ curiosity about eco-friendly materials and his problem-solving drive was sparked during our first visit to the Agia Napa beach this past Spring. We assumed not having had tourists back yet, we would find the beach clean however on our walk through shallow, still, crystalline water we found colourful sand-size particles floating which triggered our first discussion about the origins of microplastics in the ocean.
Three months into the beach season, Matias has been actively collecting rubbish left at the beach, and with dismay finding more and more smaller bits of plastic camouflaged into the sand, which only grows his concern and curiosity into the subject.
The other day, he met his friend who was building castles with his father at the beach. They were mainly using plastic toys but had employed the fallen peel of a palm tree bark to channel water into one of the castle ponds. This impressed Matias and after his friend moved on from this game, Matias quietly and very focused kept exploring different ways of using this piece of palm bark.
On our next visit to the beach he insisted we visit all the near by trees to find any shedding bark. It seems all hotels had done a great job pruning the palm trees above their sunbeds and cleaning the areas around. Despite Matias tree climbing attempts he could not reach any useful piece.
Persevering, he decided to find something else he could use to play that would not destroy the environment. Under the hot summer sun, he continued on a mission to find alternatives. We ended up with lots of different kinds of dry leaves and sticks of different sizes and textures he then proceeded to try as toys. While playing with the different materials, Matias realised that some of the collected pieces were soft and could not be dug into the sand, while others were good for digging but could not hold any water. Nevertheless, after some trial and error he found a way to make them work into a cascade system which he stepped back from to admire proudly. He concluded there is a need for sustainable, water resistant, sturdy materials that can be used as toys.
These child-led events have sparked Matias’ creativity, resourcefulness and desire to keep finding natural materials that can be used by children instead of plastics at the beach, with the purpose to reduce the number of forgotten plastic beach toys and mitigate the increase of microplastics derived from those.
He is keen to explore options further as we research and create a plan of action. Most importantly, he has grown a caring love for the oceans and expanded his knowledge on various sustainability topics, such as microplastics, a topic he now manages greatly for being 5 1/2 years old.