Learning to live more lightly on the earth is a process that adults can often struggle with. However, many schools and preschools are setting a terrific example. Children who can learn sustainability in school will have the power to go home and educate their parents on ways to lower the pressure we’re putting on the planet.
Food waste has a huge impact on our climate. This is expensive in terms of
- water waste
- soil erosion
The problem of wasted food has grown over the years. While food waste equaling more than 12 million tons was generated in 1960, 2018 saw 63 million tons of food waste discarded.
These numbers can be hard to get your head around as adults. To keep things simple for children, it’s important to focus on using what’s available before it has to be tossed. This can be as simple as bringing stainless steel food containers for lunch and snacks, prepping food as a family, and meal planning.
Storing water in plastics and shipping it around the developed world is wasteful on many levels. First of all, most people in the developed world have fresh, safe water available from the tap. Secondly, it is much more cost-effective and energy-effective to filter water at your home than to buy filtered water. Finally, making sure that everyone in the house has a reusable water bottle at their disposal is a one-time purchase.
Adults working in schools can help by carrying the same water bottle every day. If it gets scratched and beat up on the outside, all the better. It is tough to damage the inside of a stainless steel water bottle. Parents can also get in on the action, letting kids get involved by
- gathering up all the water bottles at the end of the day
- washing and rinsing them after dinner
- filling them before bed and putting them in the refrigerator
Waking up to a cool water bottle each morning that can travel with the child to school is a great lesson in sustainable water management.
In addition to providing spots for children to recycle plastics and paper in the lunchroom, start a composting program. Bring in a gardener who can help present information on:
- What they can compost for vegetable gardening
- Composting for flowers and trees
- What they can’t compost
Consider connecting with local businesses, particularly lawn care businesses and coffee shops, to see if your school can get extra grass clippings, leaves, and coffee grounds to add to your compost. To really get kids excited, consider setting up worm farms to add to the soil quality around the school. Building connections from garden to plate will help children better understand the challenges of agriculture.
If your school is located in an area that cools down overnight, consider demonstrating how the air conditioner’s timer can help reduce power consumption. It’s important to note that turning off the AC at the end of the school day may not be effective in some climates; warm air holds more moisture, leading to constantly sticky and miserable classrooms.
However, getting in the habit of turning off lights and screens in an empty room is a good practice that children can take home.
Demonstrating effective recycling is a practice that is commonplace in many homes. A practice that may get less attention in our modern world is reuse. Schools might promote reuse by bringing in a weaver who uses old tee-shirts to make rag rugs. A carpenter who reclaims old wood can demonstrate how a pallet can be broken down. A quilter who only works with scraps can demonstrate how a bedspread is made.
Children interested in learning more about reusing can begin with the simplest elements. They can empty a toilet paper roll and fill it with lint to make fire starters for camping. Dryer lint can be set out for birds to use for nesting materials.
Part of the joy of sustainability is getting the full value of everything in your home before it goes in the recycling bin. Encouraging new ways to use up everything is a terrific way to promote sustainability.
Author: Sheryl Wright