Through our participation in the project Rethinking the R’s, we are inviting a group of children to join us in keeping a waste material, plastics, “in mind and in sight.” Tapping into the sensorial and affective possibilities of the arts, we are investigating new directions for early childhood education that rethink management approaches (reduce, reuse, recycle) and refigure young children’s relationships with waste. We are connecting important ideas from the environmental humanities with early childhood education pedagogy to develop new insights into how young children might be able to change waste futures. At a classroom level, we are interested in children’s engagements with the natural processes of waste material transformation: How might children engage with plastic’s transformation processes? We decide to begin by asking: How might we invite children to attend to plastic? Gathering, paying attention, noticing, and lingering are guiding our movements and invitations.
We gathered empty plastic water bottles and filled them with plastic that we gathered in the classroom and beyond. We carefully curated more than 50 bottles, filled to different levels, that contained everyday plastic items such as beads, bags, diapers, straws, cutlery, food containers, cut up plastic cups, dental floss, hairbrush pieces, plastic shopping bags, “compostable” plastic bags, Post-it notes, grass trimmer string, telephone wire, plastic gloves, Saran wrap, bingo chips, mesh bags for holding oranges, avocado bags, onion bags, dental floss containers, dental picks, zip ties, netting tubes, ice pack holders, credit card pieces, CD pieces, pens… As the children enter the classroom, they notice the bottles—and the absence of toys and materials that they are accustomed to. The bottles are filled with plastics, yet they go unnoticed. What kinds of movement might plastic bottles invite?