If you enjoyed Part 1 of How to Start an Outdoor Classroom at Any School on Feb. 21, then you’ll love Part 2, which covers the “outside” work that happens once you’ve laid the groundwork for a successful nature-based learning program. Topics include: safety, schedules and academic time, and good gear.
The webinar will start on Thursday, March 21 at 8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST. Register here.
This webinar is for teachers, administrators, parents, community members, mentors, and anyone else who is interested in helping connect children to nature.
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Happy International Women’s Day! In my classroom, we spend a lot of time learning about change makers, especially those who may not be as well-known or celebrated. My favorite way to introduce these admirable humans is through read-alouds of high-quality picture books. In honor of International Women’s Day, here are some of my favorite books about environmental sheroes.
Wangari Maathai grew up in Kenya with trees all around her. After studying abroad for many years, she returned home to Kenya to find most of the trees had been cut down. Wangari took it upon herself to restore Kenya to its verdant past, empowering thousands of women to help along the way.
Isatou Ceesay was fed up with plastic bags littering her community in Gambia and causing health problems for humans and animals alike. She was inspired to find ways to not only recycle the bags into useful items, but uplift other women in her community as well.
Northern California native Katherine Olivia Sessions was shocked to discover that the city of San Diego had almost no trees. After becoming the first woman to graduate with a science degree from the University of California, Katherine made it her mission to fill San Diego with trees.
Rachel Carson is most famous for her landmark book Silent Spring, which is often credited with being an impetus of the modern environmental movement. This book tells the story of Rachel’s childhood and the experiences that led her to become one of America’s most well-known environmentalists.
The Zero Waste Classroom Challenge is officially launched! My co-teacher, Vicki, and I wanted to have an exciting “hook” for introducing the challenge, so we turned to our old friend Phoebe the Phoenix, a Big Bird-like character who is the mascot of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. Phoebe visited our school in the fall to teach the students about recycling and composting, so she was the perfect individual to issue the challenge. We decided to have Phoebe write a letter to the students with all the details.
After reading the letter aloud to the class, more than half the class raised their hands, eager to comment and ask questions. I thought they had grasped the concept pretty well until one boy raised his hand and said, “Wait. I don’t get it.” Oops. Time to backup and explain things a little better!
We then proceeded to spend a good amount of time breaking down the term “zero waste,” which led to a discussion of what exactly happens to our trash after we throw it in the bins in our classroom. It was a question that many students seemed to have never considered–most seemed to think it simply vanishes into thin air! Next thing I knew we were deep into a conversation about what exactly a landfill is. Pictures were shown. Terms such as “biodegrade,” “leeching,” and “toxic gas” were bandied about. Some kids still didn’t get it. Maybe we should take a field trip to the local dump?
Despite their shaky understanding of trash’s final resting place, the students did seem quite concerned about how much trash goes to landfills (in San Francisco alone, 1200 tons of garbage is carted off to landfill each day– that’s 800 Toyota Priuses!). They were overflowing (like the landfill!) with ideas about how to avoid sending trash to landfill. One student suggested she could just take her granola bar wrappers home and put them in a box (for future art projects) instead of throwing them away. Now this is the kind of innovative thinking we need! And I’m sure her parents will be thrilled by their new home decor. In all seriousness, though, they did have many great ideas, including not taking plastic produce bags at the grocery store (try reusable ones instead!).
We also started monitoring and tracking our class’s landfill waste at the end of each day. This week we just kept a tally of all the different items we found in there each day, and next week we plan to turn this data into a more visually-appealing graph. This week’s biggest offender was…..food wrappers! Yes, those kings-of-convenience (I’m looking at you, seaweed pouches!) stop looking so convenient when they are destined to spend the next 5,000-odd years festering in a landfill.
A theme that came up again and again throughout this first week was the idea of better vs. best alternatives. For example, recycling a plastic water bottle is better than throwing it in the landfill, but the best option is to forgo the plastic bottle altogether and use a reusable one instead. Similarly, using a paper bag is better than using a plastic one, but the best option is to use a reusable cloth bag. Which brings us to an important zero waste philosophy: Going zero waste is not about perfection. It’s about getting better compared to ourselves. It is nearly impossible to truly eliminate ALL non-compostable/non-recyclable/non-reusable materials from your life. The goal is simply to become more conscious of the decisions we make on a daily basis and to make changes and improvements wherever we can. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, Progress is progress, no matter how small (OK fine, I may have taken some artistic liberties, there… apologies to Horton).
So, where to next? Well, as Phoebe instructed, we will take the month of January to learn more about zero waste and really start paying attention to our class’s waste stream. We will continue to do daily landfill inventories, and, once trends start to emerge, we will work on brainstorming reusable alternatives for our most pesky landfill items. Come February, the challenge really begins as we will bid farewell to our classroom landfill bin. All items that can’t be reused, recycled, or composted will be placed in a clear jar and kept until the end of the school year. The goal is to keep that jar as empty as possible! As classroom supplies run out, we will replace them with the least-wasteful alternatives we can find.
Around mid-May we plan to wrap things up with a big Zero Waste Celebration. Will we succeed in limiting our landfill trash to one single jar? Will we make Phoebe proud? Only time will tell. Whatever happens, you can read about it here: the good, the bad, and the toxic gas. ‘Til next week!
I pride myself on living a pretty “green” life and having a relatively low carbon footprint. I eat a mostly vegetarian diet, I am a member of a local CSA, I drive a Prius, and I always bring my reusable produce bags and shopping bags to the farmers market or store. I even purchase carbon offsets for long distance travel and recently bought a GuppyFriend bag to stop microplastics from entering the oceans when I wash my clothes. So when I started reading Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson, I was expecting to feel pretty smug, and I wasn’t expecting to make many major changes to my daily life. It didn’t take long for me to realize, though, that there is MUCH more I can do to reduce my impact on the planet. Specifically, there is a lot of room for improvement in my work life, aka in my classroom. So, with this in mind, I will be engaging my students in a Zero Waste Classroom Challenge in 2019.
Why do it?
Better for the planet
Modeling sustainable behavior for kids, which they will hopefully then pass on to their families and spheres of influence
Can eventually eliminate large bulky trash can, thus creating more space in our classroom
What we’re already doing:
Using cloth dish towels instead of paper towels to dry hands
Using scratch paper for art, drawing, book marks, tests, worksheets, etc.
Investing in higher quality materials (e.g. folders, book boxes, supply bags) and reusing them every year rather than buying new sets for each class
Sourcing used items for flexible seating (thank you Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Nextdoor!)
Encouraging students to bring snack/lunch in reusable containers
Book hospital- repairing broken/torn books rather than replacing them
Thinking twice before printing (Can I submit a form electronically? Can I take a picture of it on my phone instead of printing it?)
Using old Tupperware/food containers for math manipulatives, science projects, etc. rather than buying new
Donating old materials/rugs/furniture instead of throwing them out (offer first to other teachers in the building, then to the public) and the opposite: asking others for something we need before buying it
Laminating posters I will reuse every year, writing on both sides of chart paper, and only tearing off the exact size I need from a new sheet of chart paper
Using the library as much as possible to avoid buying new books
Opening curtains and shades to maximize natural light and avoid turning on the overhead lights (this has the added benefit of lowering stress and keeping kids calm)
What I want to do in the future:
Not buy a class set of math workbooks each year. Instead, I will buy one master copy and make copies of the pages we actually need/will use (also helps with storage/resource management!).
Eliminate (or reduce as much as possible) Amazon or online deliveries– buy local and without packaging
Stop getting Scholastic Book Order fliers– shop online only
Over the next 6 months, I will be documenting our Zero Waste Classroom journey here on the blog. Be sure to subscribe to receive all the latest news and updates and to follow along on our journey.
And, of course, I want to hear from you! Have you tried reducing your classroom’s waste stream? What has worked and what hasn’t? Any words of wisdom? Let me know on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email!
I recently became one of the co-moderators of the North American Association for Environmental Education’s (NAAEE) Early Childhood Environmental Education Group, an online community of like-minded educators, parents, researchers, and more who are passionate about connecting our youngest children to nature. The group is a goldmine of resources, opportunities, and fellowship, and I encourage anyone and everyone with an interest in this topic to join the group (it’s free!). Here’s a snapshot of some of the great features of the group (and the larger eePRO community).
Pose or answer a question from a fellow group mate, and do some fantastic networking in the process. This is the most lively and interactive portion of the site and you are sure to come away with great new ideas.
Find out about upcoming learning opportunities, such as webinars, online courses, conferences, trainings, and more. Successful completion of a learning opportunity earns you Learning Hours, which are noted on your eePRO profile.
If you’re looking for a new job in the field of environmental education, you might want to peruse the curated job postings on the site. They are sorted by location and you can also search by a variety of other criteria.