Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Creating Home: A Program on Developing a Sense of Home Grounded in Faith for Grades K-1

Faith In Action: Tidying A Shared Natural Space - Short-term

Part of Creating Home

Activity time: 6o minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Large trash bags
  • Latex gloves for all participants (check for allergies)
  • A watch
  • Optional: Snacks
  • Optional: Participants' nature journals prepared in Activity 1, and pencils and crayons
  • Optional: Items for closing ritual

Preparation for Activity

  • Identify a small park, a parking lot, or some green space belonging to your congregation where the children can pick up trash. The area should be a short, safe walk from your meeting place.
  • Visit the site ahead of time. If the area is spread out, or if the group is large, arrange for additional adults to join you to ensure that no child is out of an adult's sight at any time during the walk or cleanup. Identify a spot to be your "base of operations" during the cleanup. Observe whether the area has public trash barrels or a dumpster for the litter you will collect; if you see no receptacles, plan to take the litter with you when you leave.
  • Obtain permission forms from your religious education director, if necessary. Distribute the form to parents at least two weeks before the clean-up day.
  • Purchase large trash bags and latex gloves. If any child in the group is allergic to latex, obtain alternate protection for that child.
  • Optional: If children have their own journals from Activity 1: Preparing Nature Journals, you may like to add 10 or 15 minutes for them to sit and draw after they have tidied the green space.
  • Optional: If you wish to have a closing ritual at the end of the clean-up activity, plan to bring the items you will need, such as a chalice. Plan to leave enough time for the closing.

Description of Activity

Ask the children what kind of trash Henry David Thoreau might have found, when he walked in his woods. Tell them he most likely did not find much trash. Say, in your own words:

Thoreau lived on many acres of land by himself. Today, many more people share the land. As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that we have a responsibility to keep our shared natural spaces free of human trash.

Show the children the large garbage bags and the latex gloves you have brought. Explain that some of the trash will have germs, so that everyone will wear gloves while they collect trash in the bags. Tell the group where you will go to clean up trash. Children who know the place may have comments about the litter they anticipate finding there.

Ask children to don outdoor wear, if needed, and walk together to the cleanup location. When you arrive, explain where participants may go, and where everyone will gather when you call them back. Give guidelines about what not to touch without asking an adult, such as broken glass.

Dispatch the children in small groups, accompanied by an adult, to pick up trash for ten or 15 minutes. Then, call them back to rest. Send them for another round of cleaning, if you have time. Picking up human trash can be a spiritually draining experience so be sure to allow time for reflection and maybe some time to swing on the swings or run a relay race.

You may wish to lead some reflection before you leave the site. Gather the children, and ask them to point out the areas where they picked up trash. Invite them to compare how the area looks now with how it looked when they arrived. What would Henry David Thoreau think? In this opportunity for reflection, encourage the children to share how they felt about this experience, and what they think happened to make this place messy. What can we do to protect nature?

If participants did Activity 1: Preparing Nature Journals, the tidied-up green space might be an ideal setting for a ten-to-15-minute drawing activity. Ask the children to find an object or a view they would like to observe and draw and to sit quietly and comfortably where they can see it. Remind them that by picking up human trash, they have restored the green space to something more like what Henry David Thoreau might have seen. You can invite them to pretend they are alone, while drawing, sitting outside a cottage in the woods.

You could lead a Closing outdoors after the clean-up. Bring any items you want to use, such as the chalice. If this project is part of a regular Creating Home session, when you return to the meeting space ask some children to help you complete the Closing ritual: collecting name stones from the labyrinth, putting away the labyrinth, distributing the Taking It Home handout, and (if you have a Word Wall) posting today’s words.

Allow time for the walk back to the meeting place. If you are carrying large, trash-filled bags, the walk back may take longer than the walk to the site.

Including All Participants

If any participants use a wheelchair or have other mobility limitations, make sure the route you will take is free of impassible curbs and other hindrances. If a child is physically unable to pick up litter, assign him/her a role such as timekeeper, or "keeper of the latex gloves." Make sure each individual has a meaningful role in the activity.

Most inexpensive, protective gloves contain latex. Check with parents for allergies to latex. If children are allergic, ask their parents for suggestions as to how to protect the participant's hands.