Responsibility for keeping our planet safe and clean should come from a young age. While parents play an important role in bringing up conscious kids aware of their impact on climate change, schools should also do their part.
You can make an eco-friendly school by creating learning environments greener, both literally and figuratively. And since the environment in which kids learn has a significant effect on their personalities, we should take some specific actions to make schools greener.
Here’s the quick list of how you can do it:
- Introduce more indoor plants to the classrooms
- Create an outdoor garden
- Make fun-to-use recycling bins
- Control energy use
- Improve air quality
- Encourage alternative means of transportation
- Start a green club
- Introduce students to zero-waste agenda
Let’s jump into the details.
Why should schools go green?
Research has shown long ago that the social environment affects our personality, but the physical environment is as important as our interactions with others. It impacts our wellbeing, and if this effect has been detrimental for a long time, it will negatively impact our personality.
So, theoretically, if you put a child in an environment that facilitates sustainability and green living, they will perceive it as normal and shape their lifestyle around sustainability as adults.
Some studies also prove the positive effects of green spaces on a child’s cognition.
For instance, a 2015 PNAS study has shown that primary school students get more engaged, become better at risk-taking, creativity, and self-control when they are constantly exposed to green spaces. The study also says such children have a stronger sense of self, better psychological restoration, and higher emotional intelligence.
Another study from the Environmental Research and Public Health journal investigated the effects of school green spaces on academic performance. According to the results, students who spent more time surrounded by greenery performed better at math and reading. Students also had more motivation to study.
Eight ways to make schools greener
As you can see, creating eco-friendly schools that are more sustainable and making learning places greener can help students become more aware of the importance of environmental conservation and learn better.
Now, let’s explore some ways how we can make schools greener for our kids.
1. The obvious one – add more indoor plants
Indoor plants have a good impact on a child’s cognition. They also add more color to the room and keep the air in the classroom clean.
Besides, using indoor plants can be a means to teach your kids how to take care of them. You can print out plant watering rules and step-by-step instructions. Each week, you can assign a group of students who will water these plants and make sure they are healthy.
Which plants would be safe to put in the classroom?
It’s essential to choose only non-toxic, non-poisonous, and child-friendly plants, not only if you teach small children but also if you have older kids around. Some plans can release toxic gases, such as formaldehyde or benzene, which can have a detrimental effect on children’s health.
Here are some plants that are safe to put in your classroom:
- Zebra plant (in the image above)
- Spider plant
- Coleus (beautiful pink leaves for more color)
- Christmas cactus
- Succulents and cacti
- Fiddle leaf fig
- Friendship plant
- Heartleaf philodendron
No matter how small kids are, it’s important to involve them in activities to take care of classroom plants. Just make sure you get kids excited about helping out; don’t make this task mandatory or push it too hard on students.
2. Create a school garden
Similarly to creating green spaces indoors, you can also organize a garden outdoors. It can be an excellent opportunity for kids to get outside one more time and do an environmentally friendly activity.
Researchers have also found that gardening skills have a few benefits for kids. For instance, Rasmussen University claims that gardening skills –
- provide a moderate form of exercise
- build self-awareness and confidence
- develop analytical abilities
- relieve stress
- improve memory and focus
- positively impact mental wellbeing
In addition to that, gardening encourages children to eat healthier and consume more fruits and vegetables, thus helping kids reduce their carbon footprint.
What can you plant in the outdoor garden with your students?
You can focus primarily on fruits and vegetables or diversify your gardens with some herbs as well. Here are some suggestions:
- Pumpkins and squash (in autumn)
You can also create a whole garden dedicated to flowers or fruit trees. The tricky part, of course, is to get permission to do it on the school grounds, for which you should have support not only from other teachers but from students as well.
3. Bring in fun recycling bins
Now, let’s talk about making schools greener in terms of teaching kids sustainable living. And we’ll start from recycling, which is the most obvious skill you need to teach kids to be more environmentally conscious.
The two main essentials in recycling are knowing how to recycle and the means to do it. You can tackle the knowledge part during classes by handing out short, colorful guides. But it’s also important to supply your eco-friendly school with trash bins that will make kids excited about applying their recycling knowledge.
The problem is that recycling bins are usually quite boring, and if you have first-graders around, they probably won’t catch the kids’ attention. Here’s where you can apply your creativity.
For example, you can have your children cut out the images of goods that would go to each bin as waste. You can use flashcards that teach about recycling which you can download online, print them out, and put them on the bins to guide students through the recycling process. However, keep in mind that bins alone won’t make students really excited about recycling.
You should also try taking them on a field trip to waste recycling facilities to help them understand why waste segregation matters.
4. Control energy use
The next point you should consider while making your school greener is how you use the energy inside the classrooms. Often schools tend to overuse energy because classrooms don’t have enough light. But usually, the excessive use of energy is unconscious.
What can you do to control energy use in the classrooms?
First and foremost, print out notifications and put them near light switches as reminders to turn off the light when everybody leaves the room.
But what matters more is the lighting that’s used in the classrooms. Many schools invest in fluorescent lights for saving purposes because they are cheap to set up and replace. However, fluorescent lights have also proven to be extremely harmful to the environment.
According to research, when broken, fluorescent lights can release mercury as vapor, which easily migrates in the air, water, and soil. Apart from that, mercury vapor from fluorescent lights is hazardous for the health of people and animals.
What can you substitute fluorescent lights with?
LED lights are a great alternative. They are more environmentally friendly, save energy while providing high brightness and light intensity, and have low radiated heat. They have some health benefits for people and usually have a long life cycle.
5. Work on improving air quality
The air we breathe is essential for our health. That’s why this topic should be among the top ones when teaching kids sustainability and environmental protection.
According to the EPA, good air quality includes control of airborne pollutants, clean outdoor air, acceptable temperature, and humidity. The last two aspects are as important as overall air quality because they impact thermal comfort, indicating that the air is contaminated.
EPA also highlights that poor air quality in schools can have several detrimental effects:
- Drop in student attendance
- Poorer academic performance
- Poorer teacher and staff performance
Bad air quality causes these problems because of its negative effect on health. EPA says children from schools with poor air quality have asthma, respiratory diseases, and suppressed immune systems more frequently. So, you should improve air quality not just for the sake of the environment but also to keep students and yourself healthy.
How can you improve air quality in the classroom?
EPA offers the following recommendations:
- Keep ventilation systems clean
- Reduce the items made of cloth, such as furniture, stuffed animals, or draperies
- Educate students about proper ventilation
Bringing in the plants can also help improve the air quality in the classrooms. You might also benefit from using air humidifiers and other appliances that help control humidity and temperature in the classroom.
6. Encourage biking to school
It’s normal behavior among students to want to own a car. After all, they are focused on being socially accepted and praised more than on the adverse effects cars can have on the environment.
That’s where you can play your part as a teacher to educate your students on how exhaust gases cause pollution and offer solutions to prevent it. For instance, students can start carpooling and giving each other rides to minimize the number of cars on the roads.
You can also offer students biking as a substitution for cars. Bikes are a pollution-free mode of transport, and they cut the need in producing, servicing, and disposing of cars. Besides, bicycles help conserve roadways and don’t harm residential spaces.
Apart from doing good for the environment, biking also has benefits for the kids’ health. Students, especially in high school, mostly lead a sedentary lifestyle, which can cause a whole array of health problems in the long run.
According to the University of Montana, biking has the following health benefits:
- Burning calories
- Improving cardiovascular strength
- Building balance
- Strengthening endurance and stamina
- Improving joint mobility
- Reducing anxiety and stress
If you find it hard to engage students in biking, you can run a school-wide campaign that encourages them to choose this mode of transportation over cars.
7. Start a sustainability club
Continuing the topic of greener schools and education for sustainable development, the best way to help kids become more environmentally conscious is to involve them in an ongoing activity. Starting a green or sustainability club would be a great idea to keep them engaged.
Green clubs usually consist of students, teachers, and sometimes other volunteers, and their goal is to raise awareness about various environmental problems, such as reducing carbon footprint, recycling, etc.
What can you do as a green club?
Here are a few ideas for green club activities:
- Planting trees and plants in the local communities
- Beach or forest clean-ups
- Volunteering with an environmental group
- Educating the community about the environmental issues
- Creating art from recycled materials
Green clubs are a long-term commitment for students. They are also the most effective way to educate students about environmental conservation through workshops and various activities.
However, a green club is a passion project in a way. Students should be committed and feel excited about taking part in sustainability clubs, so by no means force this activity on them.
8. Try to go zero-waste with your students
The term zero-waste is everywhere right now. Many people are pushing the zero-waste agenda, which is a great way to make people more aware of the waste they are producing.
However, going zero-waste is harder than it seems. This agenda implies that you must not leave any leftovers and use up all your resources, which seems almost impossible in some instances (like cooking, for example).
So, if you would like to introduce your students to a zero-waste lifestyle, try doing it step-by-step. Here are a few activities you can start from:
- Packing waste-free lunch
- Comparing energy costs of reusing and throwing away
- Creating a compost bin
- Educating about hazardous waste recycling
The goal is not to make your students go completely waste-free. You should focus on helping them become more resourceful and understand what they can reuse and what should be recycled.
Our kids are our future, and if we want our future to be more environmentally friendly, we should start by making education more focused on sustainability. The first (and most effective) step of doing so is to work together to make schools greener.
The rule is to keep everything in moderation. Students don’t usually perceive things well when they are forced on them. The goal is to build awareness, help students see the beneficial effects of sustainable living on their health and the environment, and make them understand how their actions will impact our planet in the long run.
Did you find this article helpful? Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comment section below, also if you have similar experiences from your life.
Kristin Savage is a content writer, editor, and environmental journalist. She volunteers at several school green clubs to help educate students about the importance of environmental conservation. She also works with Subjecto as a freelancing essay writing and editing expert.