Guest post from Katie Abarr. She highlights planet-centered classroom activities and habits to help get plastic out of schools. She’s in Cambodia right now, you can follow on her Instagram, @UnlaminatedEdu.
For several years, I have been steadily curating my personal life towards zero waste, but find myself shocked and stunned at the waste and disregard for the environment I witness in schools all over the world. Educators pour love, sweat, and tears into their work, but somewhere along the way, schools have become receptacles of resource mismanagement. Let’s make a change and #gounlaminated!
1) Breakup with Laminating
Somewhere in teacher’s college, educators across the globe were taught to laminate everything in the classroom. Laminated paper is non-recyclable and is a hazard to our environment. Challenge yourself to go a full month, a full semester, a full year without laminating. Can you do it?
What Happened: Because their unlaminated materials are more delicate than laminated documents, my students became more mindful in their care of their books, papers, and projects!
2) Ditch the Plastic Storage
Plastic does not connect us to the natural world. For storage, use vessels made of glass, wood, stone, brick, cardboard, etc. Let kids be surrounded by elements generously given to us by the earth. Kids are more connected to the classroom when they have contributed to the design of the classroom. Ask them to bring in used baskets, cardboards boxes, or glass jars. Kids gain a lot of pride from their personal contributions.
What Happened: One student brought a brick he found by the garbage to use as a pencil holder. Our focus on upcycled products inspires fantastic creativity among my students!
3) Make Plants the Focal Points
Classrooms are often filled with store-bought decorations. Our natural world provides so much beauty! Plants will not only provide your classroom with fresh oxygen, but can also be used to teach students about responsibility and care. Plants help to facilitate curiosity about life, and they can be used to direct lessons in several scientific aspects.
What Happened: One of my students took the initiative to care for the classroom plants. She took charge of the watering, pruning, and sun exposure without my prompting. A future botanist?
4) Ban Single-Use Water Bottles
Single-use water bottles are a pointless hazards to our planet. Unless you live in a geographical location where single-use water bottles are the only way to drink fresh water, ask all of your students to bring in refillable water bottles. Be sure to have students put their names on their bottle so that a vessel can always be returned to its owner!
What Happened: Students learn responsibility by having to care for their things. I was amazed at how magically thoughtful my students became with their things once the only option for water was the classroom water fountain.
5) Be an Example
You can show your kids how to lead an environmentally focused lifestyle without having to teach a specific lesson on this topic. My students never see me with a single-use water bottle, a throwaway coffee cup, or plastic straw. They witness the effort I make everyday and frequently ask me questions about my tools. My glass straw is a classroom favorite!
What Happened: Students share with their friends and family. I had a parent ask me where I purchased my glass straw. While I don’t know if the parent ever purchased one, I hope the message will encourage eventual change.
6) Spend time Outdoors
Unfortunately, access to the outdoors is not easy for all educators. Perhaps you teach in a crowded city or you have school leadership that discourages time outside. Or maybe your school has provided space for outdoor learning or even has an outdoor education program. Wherever you are on this spectrum, take any and all opportunities to spend time in nature. Perhaps this is every day, or maybe once a year. Maybe you get to take your students on camping trips, or maybe you can only get as far as a walk around the track (sidewalk?). Let kids learn about the joys of the outdoors and why we should work to preserve it.
What Happened: My students are lucky to spend time outside every day, but we created Walk Wednesday as a special day to walk outside in the morning. We celebrated students who needed to run, we celebrated students who wanted to skip, and we celebrated students who wanted a casual stroll. We went outside on the cold days, the hot days, and – grab your umbrellas – the rainy days!
When big change feels overwhelming, be kind and remind yourself small steps create a difference. Even adopting one of these planet-centered classroom activities in your school will have an impact!