The Earth Week lesson started with a clear bin of clean water.
Maple Lane Public School teacher Debbie Gibson asked her Kindergarten students to find things in the classroom to put in the water.
"They all found something and put it in the 'lake,' which we called Lake Champeau (in honour of ECE teacher Jessica Champeau)," said Gibson. "Everybody put something in, then they all had to take something out.
"Some people had picked up sand. Well, you can't clean that water, the sand doesn't come out. Some things dissolved and changed the water colour. So the kids could see the impact that just a little bit – and one little person – made that difference to the water."
It was a visual lesson, said Gibson, for a big, big Earth Week concept.
"Not all four and five-year-olds are going to get it, but they can certainly see that the water isn't as clean as it was when we started."
Ethan Haley got it.
"Everything Ethan learns in class, he always comes home and talks about it," said Denise Haley, Ethan's mother, recalling her five-year-old talking about pollution and littering. "It was really nice that something that little in their classroom really impacted a five-year-old."
When he saw litter, he wanted to pick it up.
"We went to the ballpark to watch a friend play baseball," Denise recalled, "and on the way home he said, 'Why is there garbage all over the ground?' I said I don't know. He said, 'That's called pollution, I learned that in school.' And I said you're right, that's absolutely right."
They decided to put the garbage in his little red wagon, a birthday present from his grandmother.
"We had them both in the wagon (Ethan and his sister Alivia), so he decided he was going to get out of the wagon and we were going to fill it up. So we had something to carry all the garbage home."
Two-year-old Alivia chose to stay in the wagon.
"With the garbage," Denise laughed. "She wasn't getting out – she was the 'garbage keeper.'"
Denise posted a photo of Ethan and his red wagon on Facebook (Talk Tillsonburg) to say, 'hey, c'mon people, pick up your trash. If a little five-year-old can do it, everybody can do it.'
"And it just kind of exploded from there," Denise smiled.
Inspired by Ethan, KathyLyn Ryan, with assistance from Jeremy Bakker, coordinated their first Wagon Our Fingers at Litter Day on Sunday, July 5, a one-hour cleanup in the Tillsonburg Memorial Park area. Crompton Home Hardware Building Centre generously donated gloves for the event.
"I'd say we had about 25 people," said Ryan. "Adults and kids, at least 25. It was actually a very good turnout, which is wonderful."
Two full garbage bags and one recycling bag were filled Sunday.
"Probably 65-70 pounds worth of garbage," Bakker noted.
"It's really inspiring to see the little ones, and we have a lot of little ones," said Ryan, who wants to see Wagon Our Fingers at Litter continue twice annually, spring and fall.
"It's too hot in the summer," she laughed. "In September we want to clean up school yards."
Ethan's Kindergarten teacher and his ECE teacher both attended Sunday's cleanup.
"We try to teach them, even as little as they are, that they can have a big impact," said Gibson. "And this is just the most amazing lesson, to see that one little person – and he is little – can have such a big impact on his community. I was so proud of him, very, very proud of him!"
"I think it was just great," said Vivian Hahn, Tillsonburg Citizen of the Year in 2007 who has spent the last two decades cleaning up Tillsonburg. "The young lad that I had (Colin Bakker) today... we got stuff under all the spruce trees and everything. I think that's why we had so much. He said, 'you know, it's nice picking up garbage with a stick.' And it is."
Hahn believes the first Wagon Our Fingers at Litter Day will be remembered by the young children, walking with their wagons to pick up litter.
"Today they were all kind of excited to do it, and I think they will, I really do," said Hahn. "I think the parents will encourage it too.
"When the families when go for a walk, and see litter, 'pick it up.' Even if it's only one item a day, they have already done something for the day."