Penn State’s pesticide training program makes Mr. Yuk digital

March is the month of poison prevention in children, when we focus on the dangers of toxic substances in our homes. This year, as the amount of time in the home increases, chemical awareness and chemical storage will become even more important.

Poison control centers receive accidental poisoning calls approximately every 12 seconds. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of these calls involve children under the age of 12. A young child is naturally curious and mimics adult behavior. As parents, grandparents, and caregivers, we need to be aware and take precautions to protect our little ones and all family members.

Mr. Yuk’s concept of teaching poison prevention to young children originated in 1971 at the Children’s Hospital’s Pittsburgh Poison Center. The aim was to create an eye-catching symbol to make children aware of harmful substances and to raise awareness of a 24-hour treatment emergency hotline in the center. Mr. Yuk’s green face was a favorite with kids who called him “yucky”. Mr. Yuk has become the national face of poison prevention along with toll-free 1-800-222-1222. Dialing this number will take you to the closest poison center in the United States.

Since 2011, Penn State University has worked with master gardeners as part of its pesticide education program and continues to offer first grade children training on how to protect them from toxic chemicals. This year the program was taped in response to the pandemic and is available to first grade teachers. These recordings are fun presentations created by dedicated MG volunteers that keep kids busy with their costumes, voices, and antics while also memorizing the key practices that protect these children, their siblings, and adults.

The children are introduced to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to understand and control “pests” in their environment such as poison ivy, weeds, ladybugs, bees, flies and mice. They learn that some “pests” invade our home to meet the same need for food, water, and shelter. Preventive practices such as closing windows and doors, using screens, sealing small cracks and openings, cleaning up food spills, and “not touching” are emphasized by the children. Cultural, mechanical and biological practices that control some pests are discussed and demonstrated on the screen.

Not only do children learn to identify pests that can invade our homes or live in our gardens, they also learn that some household products contain dangerous chemicals that are toxic and can make you sick if improperly used. The children learn what the signal words “warning, caution, danger and hazardous poison” mean if the product / chemical is accidentally swallowed, inhaled, or splashed in the eyes or on the skin. Safe storage is demonstrated as “up up or down low with a lock” as well as the important practice that adults NEVER place a toxic chemical in an unlabelled container.

Each student receives a student package with Mr. Yuk stickers, word puzzles and homework. For this homework, an adult has to help the child find potentially dangerous products in the household, read the “signal word” on the container label, put a Mr. Yuk sticker on the container, and then either “high” or “high” the container. Keep it safe with a lock. “Children are taught that these safe practices also protect other family members such as the elderly, little brothers or sisters, and pets.

Children learn that in the event of an accident, they should call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 and have the bottle / container of the product available for questions from poison personnel.

A round of “The Mr. Yuk Song” concludes the presentation.

For more information on the Penn State Pesticide Education Program, contact Ginny Majewski, Master Gardener’s Coordinator, or Laura Murphy, Project Co-Chair, at

Laura Murphy is a master gardener at Penn State Extension, Beaver County.

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