Going green in the classroom is one of the best places to start when teaching children of all ages about environmental safety and health. Although it seems like a large job to tackle, starting small can make a big difference inside and outside the classroom.
Creating an Eco-Friendly Classroom
Eco-friendly refers to anything that has a low or no negative impact on the environment. Implementing environmentally friendly concepts and materials into the classroom sounds like a great idea, but for many teachers (including myself) it can be intimidating. Why?
Going green and using classroom materials that are safe for the environment can be expensive. At least that's what I thought until I scoured the Internet in search of low cost ways to keep my classroom nature friendly in a way that would encourage my students to do the same in and out of school. Here's what I discovered and how I made my classroom eco-friendly in a cost-effective way.
The Green Schools Initiative
During my initial research, I discovered The Green Schools Initiative, which is an organization established by parents and environmentalists to encourage ecological sustainability in schools. This proved to be an invaluable source for discovering ways to turn my classroom into a safe zone for the environment with the help of my students. The organization has adapted a plan called 7 Steps to a Green School to aid schools in turning their facilities into nature-friendly environments. Although the plan is for schools as a whole, I found it very informative when starting my own eco-friendly classroom.
For instance, step six is about integrating ''greening'' into the curriculum through science, art, math and other classroom subjects. It also encourages teachers and students to start with the basics of ''greening'', which include recycling materials, conserving energy and saving water - this is where my students and I started.
Start Small and Build Up
The first step for creating a green classroom was to base a segment of curriculum around the environment and ways to protect it, along with figuring out how my students and I could apply nature-friendly practices to the room. We started with some class projects and discussions.
Introduce a Go Green Curriculum
A lot of curriculum resources can be found through an online ''Earth Day'' search, including Earth Day lesson plans, bulletin board projects, poster projects and other environmental activities. We focused on why we should observe Earth Day every day by exploring daily practices for protecting our planet and keeping our environment safe. We then looked at the impact people have on the environment through basic everyday tasks such as throwing away trash, running water and using electricity. We discussed ways kids can make a difference by learning to recycle, turning the lights off when they leave a room and only turning the water faucet on only as needed.
Go Green with What You Have
My students and I then developed an action plan for taking the things we learned and applying them in our classroom environment. We specifically talked about ways to create a healthier classroom environment using things we already had available to us.
Students immediately wanted to create boxes for recyclable materials and place them next to the trash cans in the room. They then created signs to post at the light switches reminding all of us to turn the lights out when leaving the room. We even did an experiment to demonstrate how much water is used when kids leave the faucet running when washing and drying their hands, as opposed to washing their hands, turning the water off and then drying their hands. Other no-cost, yet effective ways to make the classroom eco-safe included:
- Cleaning the classroom weekly to remove dust and prevent the spread of dander in the air
- Implementing a rule that both sides of a piece of paper must be used before throwing it out
- Using non-toxic crayons and other classroom and art supplies
- Picking up trash in the classroom and around the school to encourage other students to keep the environment clean indoors and outdoors
Take Eco-Friendly to the Next Level
Once our class adjusted to going green with what we already had available, we started looking into other things we could change. We discovered that we could improve the air quality by simply bringing plants into the classroom. So we decided to cut recycled water bottles in half and use the bottoms as pots for small plants. Our only costs were those for soil and plant seeds.
Students then asked about the pens and pencils they were using and whether or not there was an environmentally friendly alternative. We conducted some online research and found several options. As they were costly, we decided to hold a fundraiser and create household objects out of recycled items and sell them at the next parent-teacher conference, such as pencil holders made from decorated recycled soup cans. This gave us an opportunity to learn about fundraising for a cause and share our go green initiative with students, parents and faculty.
Benefits of an Eco-Safe Environment
In order to encourage students to think green and and stay environmentally safe all year, I decided to implement go green days once a week. The benefits were amazing:
- Our classroom stayed clean.
- Our classroom air quality improved dramatically, especially for students with asthma.
- We used less paper.
- We saved money on classroom supplies because we were being mindful of what we used and how we used it.
The benefits started out small, just like our eco-action plan, but over time, we reaped even greater rewards. ToBecomeATeacher.org has found that eco-smart classrooms can improve a child's health, test scores and attendance, while promoting long-term positive decisions related to the environment. This is what my students and I are striving for, and we hope to accomplish these goals over the long haul. But for now, we're content to make modest changes that have a positive impact on our classroom and environment, one cost-effective step at a time.