Preschool Classroom Outing Leads to Campus Service Project

Berkley Center students’ message: ‘Don’t Litter’
Children from the Berkley Center meet with Chancellor Mauli Agrawal and his wife Sue.

When people hear about school children tackling social issues, many may not think of the children being preschool age. At the Edgar L. and Rheta A. Berkley Child and Family Development Center on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, preschool children learn valuable skills to become contributing citizens within the community.

The center, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018, was developed by the UMKC School of Education and an interdisciplinary team of experts who designed the state-of-the-art early childhood program. The Berkley Center recently received high marks in an accreditation review for this project-based learning. Children at the Berkley Center have participated in many service projects, including a food drive in May.

A dozen children from a preschool classroom at the Berkley Center visited UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal and his wife Sue to share their service project and ideas for litter improvement on the campus. Their message was “Don’t Litter.”

In late May, the children and their teachers found two birds tangled in plastic netting hanging from a bamboo structure. This inspired a conversation about how people and trash affect people in their environments. The next day when walking near the entrance to Cockefair Hall, the children noticed bits of the same netting they saw tangled around the birds and wanted to know where the trash came from. The children saw groundskeepers mowing over the same plastic netting that tangled the birds.

“At that moment the children were compelled to reach out to the groundskeepers and explain what happened to the birds,” said Polly Prendergast, senior director of programs/projects at the Berkley Center.

The groundskeepers talked to the children and explained the purpose of the netting, which is used to keep new grass in place. Back in the classroom, the children discussed what they saw and this sparked a long-term investigation, which is called project-based learning (PBL).

“Facilitated by the teachers the children launched a service project to take action with a problem they saw regarding litter and discarded landscaping material on campus,” said Asia Whisenhunt Brockman, senior child development teacher. Using a mind-map strategy to organize the children’s ideas, thoughts and questions, the teachers helped the children take notes about their experience and formulate a plan to implement it.

“They identified issues such as what they know about trash; why trash is not good for people, the environment and animals; ways to make sure trash fits in a can; and why trash may escape from a dumpster,” said Kelly McDonald, co-senior child development teacher. The children also interviewed a landscape contractor via a phone call and asked if there were safer materials for people to use that would not harm animals or people. The answer was yes, there is a biodegradable erosion control cloth made from cotton fibers. 

“This is their service project – pretty cool for four and five year olds,” Prendergast said. The children named their team “UMKC Roo Litter Helpers.” Decked out in their personalized T-shirts, the children and their teachers regularly pick up trash around campus. But the service project didn’t end with that.

Their discussion with UMKC groundskeepers and activities for their classroom service project led the children to want to talk with someone in charge about other litter on campus. That led to the meeting with the chancellor, which included a presentation of their ideas July 25. The children asked the chancellor to help them communicate with the greater UMKC community about preventing littering on campus.

In return for their dedication to keeping the UMKC campus free from litter, Agrawal presented the children with a recycle bin that includes a “RooUp and Recycle” plaque thanking the Berkley Center children.

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Published: Jul 29, 2019

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