Making a Green Classroom
Your classroom should reflect the concepts of green living and planetary protection that you intend to teach. It's nearly impossible to transition to a totally sustainable building in the blink of an eye, but there are many small ways you can make the classroom embody what you teach.
Sustainable School Supplies
When you're shopping for the basic supplies for your classroom, look for Earth-friendly options. Here are some examples:
Choose paper that has been processed chlorine free (PCF), to avoid dioxin and mercury pollution from the bleaching process, and choose the highest percentage of recycled post-consumer waste (PCW) available.
Opt for folders and binders made of recycled cardboard and paper instead of PVC or other plastic products.
Find recycled pencils, recycled plastic pens, soybean crayons, and nontoxic unscented markers.
Pick paperclips, scissors, and other incidentals made with recycled materials.
Use the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool found at www.epeat.net to help you select the most environmentally friendly computer for your classroom.
Green office and school supplies are becoming increasingly available through major retailers, but you may still run into difficulty depending on your location. Shop online and you'll find everything you need and products made from materials you never would have imagined, like paper made from bamboo. Make your purchases “speak” to your students by posting signs by each item that explain what they're made of and how that's better for the planet.
Use your green classroom not only as a model for your students, but also as a model for the rest of the school, the parents, and the community. Take every opportunity possible to have people tour your room to look at what you have and do. Invite a local newspaper or television station to do a story on it. Spread the word!
Keeping It Clean and Green
Many conventional cleaning products have ingredients in them that pollute the air inside your classroom. They can also cause headaches, asthma and allergy attacks, and other health problems. Keep your classroom clean by using products that don't hurt the Earth or human health. You can find safer products at www.healthyschoolscampaign.org in its Green Clean Schools resources. Green Seal (www.greenseal.org) is another national nonprofit that certifies products for offices and institutions.
Beware of what the Center for Ecoliteracy calls “hidden curricula” in schools. These subliminal messages can undermine the good lessons you teach in your classroom. For instance, if your cafeteria uses Styro-foam plates and cups, this contradicts what you say about the harm they do to the environment. What are the hidden curricula at your school?
Taking It Outdoors
As much as possible, take your students outside. Getting in touch with nature makes people more apt to want to protect it. Even if you're not specifically teaching an environmental concept at the time, just being outside in the sunshine is important. You can sit in the grass and read a book or work on math equations. It might be difficult at first to keep everyone focused on the task at hand, but the more often you do it, the more the children will become accustomed to it and appreciate their time outdoors.
Another way to get a quick glimpse of the natural world is to take an outdoor route when you're going from one area of the school to another. It might be a longer walk to find the nearest exit to your classroom and then traipse around the building until you find the nearest entrance to the cafeteria, gym, or library, but the time outside is a tiny opportunity to enrich your class. Did anyone see a bird or some other type of animal? Did anyone see a bug? What types of plants are growing? What was the weather like? The first couple of times, you can devote a little class time to discuss what the students experienced. Make a large bulletin board showing your school and grounds. The students can regularly draw pictures of what they saw and add them to the board. Each time you take a quick walk, pick one or two students to add a drawing during their spare time.