Not every lesson ends in the classroom. And just as we all learn how to adapt to climate change, it’s also clear the next generation needs to be equipped to live more sustainable and environmentally responsible lives. That can present a challenge for parents and teachers. But as the school year ramps up, there are exciting, creative ways to add an eco-friendly undercurrent to the day-to-day curriculum.
Whether it’s recycling, reusing materials, adopting plants, raising gardens, installing energy-efficient lighting, or switching to Earth-friendly cleaning products, educators, alongside parents, have the power to influence how the next generation chooses to manage the planet. Here are 10 cool ways to make the classroom more eco-friendly and environmentally aware as the school year marches forward.
1. Teach your kids to creatively reuse
Kids are creative! This year, challenge these colorful thinkers to devise ways to reuse the materials around them. One idea? Have them wrangle up some plastic bottles to turn into plant containers, which they can hang around the classroom. Not only will it keep the bottles out of landfills, but the plants will improve air quality and create a calmer environment for the students. Ask your students what else they can come up with, too. Another creative way to engage your students in sustainability is to make a game out of it — a game from which they can learn. From bottle bowling to a scavenger hunt for recyclables, it’s easy to bring awareness to recycling with a fun, fast-paced event. Not only do kids learn how easy it is to reuse materials, but it gets them moving, collaborating, and having some fun — all of which have proven to help students learn subjects at a deeper level and retain information longer.
2. Start a green club
If you’re a teacher who would like to take on a more ambitious project that extends beyond the classroom, consider starting an environmental club. It’s a surefire way to get students excited about protecting the planet. One tip: launch with a specific project for students to focus on. Examples could include starting a bird sanctuary or organizing a water bottle campaign. That will show them — as well as administrators and parents — that the club is a serious endeavor.
3. Invite natural light in
Most of us spend too much time under artificial lighting — including students. This can negatively impact their emotional, mental, and physical health. This year, try to be mindful of how beneficial natural lighting can be. Keep blinds and shades open to let the vitamin D in. Natural light will improve both productivity and the overall mood. The light will also provide extra heat on those chilly winter days.
4. Get crafty
At SaltyLama, we believe in creating more than you consume. So, this school year, get crafty and make some of your supplies. Start with glue, especially if you teach younger kids. You only need a few kitchen ingredients — such as vinegar, powdered dry milk, and baking soda — to whip up a batch of non-toxic glue. But that’s not all. The possibilities are endless — from unwanted paper to tin cans to bottle caps. One example? Create a plastic bottle mural in your classroom or a communal space where the entire school — students and faculty alike — can enjoy it.
5. Use supplies longer
How many of us buy too much when it comes to school supplies? Yep, we’ve been guilty. And how many of us fail to take inventory of what can be reused from the last school year? Yep, guilty again. This year, take an inventory and decide if you can reuse last year’s supplies. Set out a box on clean-out day and ask students and parents to throw unwanted items like half-used crayons, colored pencils, and notebooks in it. Either utilize them next school year or donate them.
6. Encourage walking or biking to school
Parents and educators alike can encourage students to get moving. Teachers can do the same with fellow educators, as well. Designate a day — near the beginning of the school year — to task students with finding green ways to get to school, whether it’s walking, biking, or riding a scooter. Do it early enough, and kids might stick with it for the whole year (weather permitting) — and even into the future.
7. Host a solar cookout
Provide a unique and creative lesson in solar energy by hosting a solar cookout before winter sets in. Having students build their sun ovens to cook in is a fun, hands-on science lesson that students will remember for years to come. You can easily find step-by step-designs for solar ovens that require only a few materials — some of which you may already have at your disposal. The students will love it!
8. Grow a garden
Find a small space on the school grounds for a garden. Get students involved from the very start by letting them choose the plot. Turn it into a teaching moment and have them determine the best spot based on light needs and soil type. Grow some vegetables and let kids experience how easy it is to produce their own food. If, for some reason, you aren’t allowed to start an on-campus garden, try indoor plants in your classroom. Studies show indoor plants naturally purify the air and provide health benefits, like fewer cold symptoms and improved behavior. Plants that are easy to grow include spider plants, snake plants, jade, English ivy, and golden pothos. Then be sure to nurture these mini gardeners by involving them in the daily care of the plants.
9. Have a trash pickup day
Give school staff a break and make the kids pick up after themselves for a while. Kidding — but not really. A clean-up day is a great way to teach sustainability and responsibility. Make it an annual, monthly, or weekly event. This firsthand experience will help these young minds become more aware of where they are putting their litter.
10. Don’t forget the homework
Shaping an eco-friendly mind doesn’t have to end with the school day. Parents can make their children more aware of the environmental impact of their actions just by their own day-to-day choices. It can be as simple as selecting what detergent to use when washing the dirt and grime out of all those team uniforms and other school sports apparel. Liquid detergent — with the plastic jug and harmful chemicals — or plant-based, non-toxic detergent strips that dissolve effortlessly?
Of course, these actions mean nothing if students, parents, and educators aren’t learning the why behind the what. While performing these eco-friendly projects, be sure to pull together stats and information to help everyone realize how beneficial a greener school can be. Let everyone know the impact a school can make on the environment. This will drive home the point and potentially help individuals adopt new green-minded habits.