Maria Hernandez: Making a Magical Classroom, One Plastic Bottle at a Time

Some of our favorite moments at WECA involve meeting amazing providers who go above and beyond in their work. Maria Hernandez, owner of Green Planet’s Daycare in Milwaukee, is a prime example.

While on a shadow evaluation with Food Program area coordinator, Alice Gomez Palacio, Pam Polenz, Food Program Claims Director, knew she was about to see something spectacular.

Maria Hernandez, owner of Green Planet's Daycare

“As soon as I stepped foot onto her front yard, I was immediately struck by her unique creativity,” Pam shared. “She had these large metal structures in her front yard that caught my eye. I knew it was going to be an exciting visit.”

Inside was no exception. Sprouted in one part of the classroom stood a life-sized tree. What made it fascinating was that it was made entirely out of papier-mâché. Scattered along the walls hung colorful flowers made from plastic bottles and metal cans. A hungry caterpillar made from green plastic cups sat on top of bookshelf. A yellow clock hung on a wall transformed into the sun.

“Maria has talent,” Pam added. “It was so inspiring to see her ability to take ordinary objects and transform them into magical teaching tools. Her talent harvests a strong learning environment for the kids in her care; it’s amazing.”

We asked Maria, a WECA Food Program participant since 2013, to reflect on her passion of teaching children and her focus on recycling.

Why did you decide to start caring for children in your home?
My goal has always been to implement something different in my daycare on how to take care of our environment. This is why my program is called “Green Planet’s Day Care.” Each one of us can make a difference in our world by recycling.

My passion has always been to appreciate and value childhood as a unique and valuable stage in the life of a human. As a provider, I have a responsibility to offer children a safe, healthy and stimulating environment. I am committed to creating a work plan covering from daily routines to activities related to the areas and centers of the classroom. They go hand in hand, and together help transform a child entirety.

How did this idea of a focus on recycling originate?
The idea originated through my work in Mexico in a rural community where there was a shortage of resources and materials necessary for working with children. I always had to recycle materials and the children had the opportunity to also recycle materials to give them a new use in the classroom.

Where do you get your recycled materials?
I mostly get the recycled materials from the families in my program. We collect different recycling materials and I also recycle what we consume in my home.

IMG954291What are some favorite activities you do with children using recycled materials?
One of the favorite activities that children like is making “maracas” with bottles of water, and making flowers with egg cartons and rolls of paper. They also like to make “alebrijes,” which are typical of Mexico. By making their own art, children develop their creativity.

*Maracas are a pair of rattles made from gourds.

**Alebrijes are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical/mythicial creatures.

Do children in your care create things that are in your recycled art collection?
Yes! Older children helped put on the tree bark using newspaper and non-toxic paint. They also cut the flowers made of plastic bottles.

If other family child care providers would like to use your idea, how could they start?
First, invite families to learn how to collect diverse types of materials that our programs can consume day by day, like cardboard, plastic, paper, wrappers, cans, lids, etc. Teach both parents and children the importance of practicing the 3 “Rs” (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle), and motivate them to learn new ways that “junk” can be re-used.

Why is it important for children to use recycled products?
My goal is to offer families the best quality experience while protecting our environment. I create awareness and teach children, from the early years, to recycle every day. It is important to guide children to be responsible for our planet as this will be their future responsibility.

Flowers made from plastic bottlesAny ideas that you would like to share with other providers?
Besides recycling properly, it is important to motivate parents, families and children’s friends to work as a team cleaning our neighborhoods, often picking up the garbage from the streets. We can’t wait to do this only on Earth day; every day we need to create awareness of caring for and protecting our environment.

Also, it is essential to motivate children to plant gardens and teach them the process of planting vegetables, flowers and diverse types of plants that are not harmful to children. This will give them the opportunity to see the plants grow and to take care of them.

Any other messages to share?
It is very important that each provider engage parents to be part of a recycling project. We start from home, since we live in a multicultural country where we consume many types of products day by day. If we do not recycle, it will take many years for it all to decompose and our planet will continue to be harmed.

We would like to thank Maria for sharing her passion for recycling and incorporating it into her family child care center. If you are looking to boost your recycling efforts in your center, we have exciting news! Maria will be presenting at our 2018 WECA Conference in October.  Her workshop will be hands-on experience where you can create magical learning tools for your own center.

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