Plastic, The Monster That Won’t Go Away!

By Carolyn Koerber, Young Audiences Puppeteer and Storytelling Teaching Artist

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Young Audiences and NRG recently partnered to offer the Creatively Green Family Arts Festival.  A determined little girl stepped up to my puppetry station called “Plastic: the Monster that Won’t Go Away!”  She focused very intently as she searched through bins of milk jugs, water bottles, juice containers, soda bottles and other recyclable plastics.  She was looking for larger shapes to use for the body of her puppet.  Then she and the other children chose smaller shapes such as bottle caps, ribbons, bubble wrap and plastic grocery bags so that they could add mouths, eyes, noses, tentacles, ears and other scary monster parts to their puppets.

I guided the children through their creative process by asking, “Where will you put those eyes?  How many heads does your monster have?  Will your monster have teeth?  Straggly hair?  A frown?  Eyes that bug out?”  I let their imaginations soar.

The Creatively Green Festival was a jumping-off place, a catalyst that would stimulate children’s natural curiosity and encourage them to explore sustainability in more depth.  Throughout the activity, I introduced thoughts and questions about plastics and their effect upon the earth.

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  • Where did all that plastic come from?
  • Did you know that the United States uses 100 billion plastic bags each year?
  • Plastic is NOT biodegradable; it breaks down into smaller toxic parts that stay in our soil and our water.
  • What are some creative ways to reuse or repurpose plastic water, soda and milk bottles in the classroom?

As the little girl’s plastic monster puppet came to life, she glued a small piece of cardboard to a stick and then placed it in the puppet’s hand. She had created a sign with the words, “Don’t use me! Find something else!”  Her puppet marched back and forth with great energy.

In only ten minutes, she had made her puppet and brought it to life in a wonderful way.  I spoke to her puppet, “Hi Monster Puppet.”  “Hello” she growled back. “What do you have there,” I asked.  She responded forcefully, “My sign says that you shouldn’t use me because I’m plastic!”  This was a special moment because her creativity had given her puppet a purpose.  In essence, its message was, “We must all work together to reduce our use of plastic.”

Giving the children a positive and fun activity allowed them to examine, analyze and question plastics use in our environment.  This was what I wanted the children at Chesapeake Public Charter School and Ports Town Elementary School to grasp.  If they could go away from my table thinking of just one way to avoid buying plastic, that would be a step in the right direction.

When I was a child, the natural world was my playground.  Spending time outdoors helped excite my imagination.  My love of nature has greatly influenced my work as a teaching artist today.  It has been proven that children are healthier, more creative and more empathetic if they have strong connections to nature.

Artists are always challenged to find creative solutions in their work. That is an essential skill we should pass along to children.  If the arts can help children to come up with creative solutions for sustainable practices now, just think what they might accomplish as adults!

To understand the impact that teaching artists have upon children, you might compare it to making ripples in a pond.  If you toss a stone into the water, the ripples spread out and you don’t know what they will touch.  When an artist inspires a child, that creates the same effect.  Building community awareness works in the same way.  That’s why it is so important to continue to educate our children about sustainability.  We don’t know what monumental impact it may have on our future.

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