The role that teachers and other academic instructors play in the shaping of young children’s habits should not be understated. Young children tend to emulate the behaviors that they have seen modeled by the influential characters of their childhood, whether they realize it or not. Because of this, it is very important that green principles be taught in elementary school classrooms today. I still remember the teachers I had in my 3rd grade class they emphasized the importance of living an environmentally friendly lifestyle, and many of the principles they taught me all those years ago have shaped some of my practices today. If you are a teacher or classroom aid, here are some great ways to teach your students how to live green lifestyles.
Start an in-class compost bin. Yes, this may seem like a potentially smelly idea, but when done properly it really does not have to be. I distinctly remember the teacher of mine who brought in poster about “Mr. Wiggley the worm” who was an “active decomposer of Mother Earth.” Teach your students about the importance of critters like worms who help provide the earth with naturally rich (and not artificially fertilized) earth-ideal potting soil. A compost bin can be easily constructed using a plastic storage tub (with a lid to minimize potential odors), dirt, and worms, and contributions to the “compost” part of the idea can be made by students donating parts of their lunches and snacks (banana peals, egg shells, apple skins, etc.). Through this example children will learn the difference between compostable material and items that must be thrown away in the trash.
Have a recycle bin. The amount of paper that goes to waste from the average classroom is enormous, and offering students the opportunity to recycle much of their unneeded paperwork will greatly reduce this problem. Encourage students to take note of how much less full the trash can is when they remember to recycle. In addition to having a recycle bin for paper, consider also offering students with the opportunity to recycle chips bags and Capri Sun juice packets through a program like Terracycle’s.
Implement the “two pumps” rule. Many children (and adults) are in the habit of pumping out more paper towel than they truly need to dry their hands after washing them in the restroom. Whether it’s the thrill of pumping down the paper towel handle, or the “need” to use more paper towels in order to dry hands faster, this is a problem that is widespread and yet little addressed. Teach your students to only pump down on the paper towel handle twice (or, in the case of automatic paper towel dispensers, to only wave their hand once); this will show them the importance of not wasting paper, even in the most ordinary circumstances.
Overall, be creative in your teaching strategies. Implementing green lessons into your regular science curriculum will most likely not be too difficult, as earthy issues affect many areas of everyday life. Remember, the lessons that you teach your students about taking care of the earth will probably be remembered throughout many of their entire lives.