The recent story of the Quebec boy who was excluded from a kindergarten draw because he had a plastic sandwich bag is unfortunate. It's also a great lesson about the key role information plays in generating positive change.
Special school activities around planet-friendly practices can have a positive, memorable effect on learning as long as they're backed up with education and adequate advance information. Incorporating background lessons into the curriculum and sending notices home or posting on the school website are great ways to inform everyone involved - including parents - and get some buzz going about the activity so the kids are excited about participating in it.
In the case of six-year-old Felix from Laval, Quebec, somehow the information didn't reach everyone.
As reported in the National Post, Felix's father, Marc-Andre Lanciault says he'd heard nothing of the draw for a stuffie for students who did not bring plastic sandwich bags to school or anything about the school's environmental policy until his son was begging for his sandwich not to be put in a plastic bag.
"Felix explained with lots of emotion and tears in his eyes that there was a simple condition to entering the drawing: Don't use a Ziploc bag in their lunch," Lanciault wrote on his blog, Notre Vie (Our Life). "Seeing the use of a ziploc by his Mum, Felix reacted as if someone had slaughtered a pig for slicing into his ham sandwich," wrote Lanciault.
Normally, Felix takes Tupperware to school, but on this occasion it was all in the dishwasher so his sandwich was packed in a plastic sandwich bag.
When questioned about Felix's exclusion from the contest because of a plastic bag, his teacher said, "You know Mr. Lanciault, it is not very good for the environment, we have to take care of our planet, and the bags do not decompose well, etc."
Education and encouragement through positive reinforcement are undoubtedly the better choice over penalty and preaching. In this case, while the kids in Felix's class who didn't bring a plastic sandwich bag that day were rewarded positively with entry into the draw, the unfortunate plastic sandwich bag faux pas landed poor Felix on the other unfriendly side of the environmental fence.
Should Felix be held responsible for his parents' actions at such a young age? No. A good alternative is to run activities by class, especially at the primary levels. 'Waste-free lunch days' or 'walk to school challenges' run as a competition between classes within a school rather than between individuals can be effective without singling out students in a potentially negative way.
Are activities like contests the proper vehicle for educating kids about environmental responsibility? Yes, if they're backed up by an educational component and the science behind it - naturally at a level the kids can understand. A contest is far more interesting and memorable than hearing the same message from the teacher.
And if our child tearily begged us to pack a reusable container that was in the dishwasher? We have to say, we'd probably take a few minutes to wash one by hand.
If you have any thoughts or ideas about eco-friendly activities in schools or generating positive change, please leave a comment below. We'd love to hear from you!
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