Too many people visit parks and other outdoor locations and do not practice a "leave no trace" philosophy. It is common knowledge that reducing our impact on natural resources enables us to preserve them for future generations. A principle of the leave no trace philosophy is to dispose of waste properly which is actually something that my family likes to do!
I've found that a creative way to teach children about keeping parks clean is to have them pick up trash before they get to play at the park. My family's latest excursion to Glenwood Park involved a clean-up effort. Instead of using garbage bags, we took recycled grocery store bags and walked along the road that ran through the park. The side of the road is a good place to find garbage because people tend to throw trash out their car windows. We found cigarette butts, cigarette packaging, candy wrappers, fast food wrappers, bottle caps and other miscellaneous bits of trash. Another place where we found a lot of trash was around the picnic areas as people seem to forget to use the garbage cans that are provided.
The kids have a fun time picking up trash and treat it almost like a competition. Each one wants to be the first to spy the next piece and pick it up. Each one wants to have the largest bag at the end of the day. I tell them that their reward is to play on the equipment and enjoy the park that we just helped clean up. They treat the experience like an adventure, searching through leaves and grass to find the little "treasures" that people left behind. In essence, they are removing the human footprint that has been left behind and giving the park back to nature!
This is a great way to teach the next generation about the value of parks. Latest research shows that children need outdoor play, instead of or in addition to the video game kind of play, to develop their kinship with nature and understanding of environmental sustainability.
Like all clean ups, this simple family activity will lead to an appreciation for taking care of one's own community. One of the side benefits is that probably your family won't be leaving any trace of their trash under the picnic table any time soon. At least not in Glenwood Park after your wisely crafted mini-adventure in park clean up.
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