Toddlers celebrate Earth Day the Kingsbridge Heights way

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If recycling had a world tour, it’d look a lot like the Earth Day celebration held last week at the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center. 

While such a celebration typically focuses on how to save the planet, the West 231st Street center also celebrated the diversity that makes up the Earth, splitting up its toddler-age children into groups based on the countries, islands and continents their families hailed from.

With a little help from the adults in the room, the kids created maracas, drums and even palm trees to give each of their tables its own green and cultural flair. Those tables represented a variety of popular Earth locations like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Chile, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Peru, Africa, Brazil, Costa Rica, and, of course, the United States. 

“This contributes to the lessons that it’s not only for us living here in America but others as well,” said Luz Pena, the director of family child care at the community center. “We have to make healthy life a staple part of our living here. We can bring the knowledge to other countries and share it. Our purpose today is to learn how to recycle and what these regular things can supply.”

Part of being a Bronxite includes this level of diversity, but it also involves enduring the age-old criticism that your borough is the dirtiest in all of New York City. However, the children from the Kingsbridge Heights Early Childhood service program are changing stereotypes, one popsicle stick at a time. 

At their Earth Day event, children from programs within the center, which ranged from three months to four years old, created different ways to recycle regular household items and make them into new ones.

Herminia Mumoz, a provider at the center, stood next to Puerto Rico’s table where plant pots that used to be milk cartons hung on the fence behind it. On the table there were little houses made of popsicle sticks. The table had some real-world lessons, especially for Puerto Rico, which has had to change significantly since being hit by Hurricane Maria last year.

“They don’t have any concept about recycling, and with everything that’s happened, they’re trying to implement that now so they can have something better in the future,” Mumoz said. 

The community center’s staff also handed out large stickers informing parents about what was recyclable — even things someone might least expect, like phone books, pots and tricycles. They also versed parents on what should not be thrown away, like hardcover books, batteries and plastic foam. 

Ana Antigua showed the children they also could turn their garbage into garments. Her shirt was adorned with plastic bottle caps she made into flowers.

Deborah Ortiz, a child development specialist at the center, joined Antigua in her green fashion by sporting a cardboard dress she wore over her clothes. To her, family engagement and parents are key to children’s education, both academic and environmental. 

Parents worked along side their children on crafts promoting green awareness. Ilyana Sori painted with her daughter, Lilly Quero, on a large yellow canvas on the ground. She has been a part of the program for two years, and any chance she gets to bring her daughter to see her friends outside of daycare, she does. 

“She can learn about different ways to keep things clean, like her environment and sometimes her(self) too,” joked Sori as Quero toddled back to the paint. “It’s just nice to be apart of this community and learning things that I can teach her.”

Although recycling was the main focus of the event, at one point the center turned into a celebration. After Puerto Rico was called to present, Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias’s “Bailando” blasted through the speakers. Salsa and merengue dancing filled the center’s playground as parents grabbed one another, moving as though they weren’t bundled in coats and jackets.

At one point, a roll call honored the different countries and locations represented at the community center event, each of them getting cheers from their natives.

“I hope that they will gain a sense of unity with the world,” Ortiz said of the toddlers. “The world is beyond yourself, and it’s so much bigger than what we see here. 

“I hope they help to keep the world cleaner, because it’s our future.”

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