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Inspiring Kids to Go Green at School

by Diane MacEachern


Diane MacEachern

Diane MacEachern is the author of Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World Read more »

At home, we've taught our kids to turn off the lights when they leave their rooms, recycle cans and bottles, and maybe even scrape their dinner scraps into the compost pile.

But what happens when our children head off to school? Next to home, kids spend more time at school than anywhere else, at least six hours a day and maybe more if they participate in after-school clubs or sports. How can we, as parents, inspire our sons and daughters to continue to practice in the classroom what they've learned under our own watchful eyes?

First, find out what schools are already up to. It's surprising how many schools have enthusiastically embraced going green. In part, that's because administrators realize that kids learn better in rooms filled with natural light and air that hasn't been tainted by toxic cleaning products. But it's also because practices that reduce waste and save energy - like copying documents on both sides of a sheet of paper and switching to more energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs - save substantial amounts of money, an important consideration in these tight economic times.

Ask the facilities manager or principal at your child's school if you can review their environmental or sustainability plan. If they don't yet have one, direct them to the very useful green planning resources available through the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Second, form a "Green Team" driven by students but supported by parents and teachers. Together, create a Vision Statement that reflects what being a "green" school means to you all. Then, identify ways to transform your vision into reality. In some cases, it might be a matter of bolstering the school's existing science curriculum to include specific units on the environment. In my community, the green team at the local elementary school has been particularly active organizing students, parents and supportive teachers behind an initiative to replace the cafeteria's throwaway lunch trays with reusables. They've held rallies, testified at school board meetings, enlisted the help of the PTA, and marched in the annual 4th of July parade brandishing the polystyrene disposables they hope to banish.

Teens and middle-schoolers elsewhere are recycling electronics and cell phones; planting organic gardens; and restoring wetlands and wildlife habitats that border their playgrounds, among many other ambitious and rewarding activities.

Third, involve your kids in greening their personal school experience, starting with supplies. No matter what the age, every single student returns home from the first day of school with a long list of required or desired items teachers want them to use for the next nine months. In virtually all cases, an "eco" version is available, including:

  • Pens made from recycled plastic, pencils from recycled newspapers, crayons from non-toxic soy and beeswax, and binders, folders, notebooks and looseleaf paper from recycled cardboard and "post consumer waste."
  • Water bottles made from reusable stainless steel or BPA-free plastic.
  • Backpacks and lunch boxes free of lead and plasticizers. By the way, have your child make lunch with you the night before, packing sandwiches, crackers, fruit, and cookies in reusable containers.
  • Antiseptic wipes that contain alcohol rather than an antibacterial agent like triclosan, which has been linked to our growing resistance to antibiotics.

Earth Day was just an occasional event when we parents were growing up. For our kids, Earth Day is every day - not just at home, but at school, too. I'd love to hear what other ideas you have for inspiring your kids to go green.

If you'd like to learn more about ways you and your family can "go green" look for a copy of Big Green Purse at your library or local bookstore.

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Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World Buy it now from Amazon.

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