Ever since President Obama’s Administration announced they would honor a select group of Green Schools in April of 2012, environmental education in the classroom has been on the rise. Recognition from the White House has also offered a much need legitimacy that many green educators have been looking for.
If you have high hopes for greening your school but find the support needed to tackle green issues campus-wide in short supply, you can still take advantage of the green momentum by starting small and offering to be the green classroom parent.
Starting in the classroom is a great way to ease a school into the greening process. Once teachers and fellow parents see how students can learn science and stewardship while having fun and saving money, others will join forces and the program can expand in a manageable manner. The following is a short list of ideas that a parent can use to introduce the green concept into the classroom.
Set the stage for a Green School Year
Most teachers hand out a list of supplies needed for class during the first few days of school. Ask your child’s teacher if you can create a green supply list and hand it out during back-to-school night (on recycled paper of course). Eco-friendly school supplies can be found in mainstream markets and are priced competitively with similar products. Staples offers eco-friendly notebooks, composition books, writing pads and sticky notes made from 80 percent sugar cane waste. They also carry pencils made from recycled tires, crayons made from solar energy, and pens made from recycled plastic. Just about any item on a traditional list can be found in an affordable, eco-friendly version. Visit one of the large supply stores near your school, take notes, and share your finds.
Extra Credit: Help teacher set up a website where supply list can be posted as well as all the other traditional handouts. Getting information online saves paper.
Start the year off with a durable party goods drive. Instead of asking for parents to bring in disposable plates, forks, and napkins for each holiday party, request that each family donate one durable place setting for the teacher to keep with her classroom. Purchase a large plastic Rubbermaid type bin for storage and let it double as a washtub. In our classrooms, we assign student helpers to clean the dishes and explain that by doing so they are helping to conserve natural resources. Allow the teacher to keep the durable goods for the years to come and remind parents and students that they have created a stewardship program that will last for years.
Extra Credit: Teach kids to conserve water and energy while washing dishes. Fill tub with soapy cold water, scrub each item then turn water on and quickly and rinse. Do not let water run the entire time and by using cold water you save the energy it would take to heat it.
Take on Trash
One of the least controversial environmental issues in which a parent can engage students is the ubiquitous presence of trash. In the lower grades at my school we spend much of the year brainstorming on ways we can reduce trash around our campus. Since we live near the ocean, the trash that is scattered around our school eventually will make its way down the storm drain and harm marine wildlife. In areas that are not near the ocean, students can learn about how birds mistake small pieces of trash as food and ingest it. As a classroom volunteer there are a number of opportunities to get kids thinking about this issue.
Suggest that students take a walk around campus with you and supply each child with their own paper bag. Have students collect some debris around the campus or bring some clean trash from home (bottle caps, granola bar wrappers, juice box straws) and instruct kids to create a self-portrait with the trash. We provide each kid with an 8×10 piece of cardboard and some glue. The students see first hand how much trash ends up on the ground and then create something interesting with it.
Extra Credit: Use picked up trash to make a “keep our campus clean” mural and hang it someplace where the whole school can see it.
Kindergarteners are the perfect group to encourage good stewardship practices. They are old enough to understand the harm trash presents to the environment but not too old to feel burdened by a task like keeping the campus clean. Purchase a supply of latex-free gloves and small trash bags and carve out an hour every week for Kindergarteners to scour the campus for unwanted trash. Ask your school’s administrator for a visible spot in our library where the results of the weekly cleanups can be posted in pounds. Kindergarteners will learn about scales and weight measurements while feeling a sense of pride because the results are prominently displayed.
Extra Credit: Report the year-end results to your local paper with a photo of your trash patrol group and celebrate the amount of waste that was not able to harm any wildlife.
Waste Free Class
Challenge students and their parents to see if you can create a waste-free classroom. Make sure your classroom has several recycling containers. One for paper waste, one for plastic items and aluminum cans and large box labeled “scratch paper” for students to put all papers used on only one side. Have students take paper from “scratch” box when doodling or working on less formal projects. If recycling is done properly, true waste products should be minimal.
Extra Credit: Help students carry the waste-free mantra into the lunchroom. Offer suggestions to parents on how to pack lunch items in durable containers rather than using paper bags and plastic baggies.