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Make the Learning Scene Green! Creating an Eco-Friendly Preschool Classroom

written by: Sylvia Cochran • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 1/20/2012

Go green in the preschool classroom with easy to follow tips and strategies. They are designed to complement one another; once the teacher gets the ball rolling, having an increasingly eco-friendly class is not as difficult as one might imagine.

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    Why Go Green?

    The preschool classroom environment is an excellent vehicle for introducing environmentally sound decision-making even to the youngest students. While in higher grades, this kind of education might take the form of special projects and perhaps also involve some student research and report writing, in the case of preschool children this training lends itself to modeling everyday life decisions.

    For example: which snacks to eat, what to do with the empty snack containers, how to reuse items and thereby reduce waste, and also how to recognize recyclable items become teachable moments. Of course, before the entire classroom can go green, it is up to the teacher to do some mental legwork as well as some actual supply gathering.

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    Nuts and Bolts of Environmental Education

    1) Analyze classroom waste

    Treehugger recommends a waste audit. Over the course of one week, collect all of the classroom waste, and then separate it into organic items that might be composted, recyclable goods, reusable materials, and the odds and ends that truly only fit into the landfill. This eye-opening exercise is a must for the teacher who wants to go green but is uncertain where to get started. It also introduces preschoolers, in a very hands-on fashion, to their own impact on the environment.

    2) Establish Scope

    Outline the initial scope of going green. Remember that it is always possible, and indeed encouraged, to add-on more components. For example: start a recycling program and then couple it with a reuse program as well. Follow up with water conservation and eventually also add energy conservation.

    3) Build a recycling program

    Charlene Endicottre counts how she started a school-wide recycling program at Kentucky’s Flemingsburg Elementary School. While this may not be a realistic undertaking for the average Pre-K class, it is entirely possible to start recycling within the classroom. Having the teacher lead by example is a key component that helps kids with remembering to place plastic drink containers into the correct receptacle. Colorful artwork that explains what goes into each bin helps the visually stimulated students further.

    4) Reuse paper and plastic as part of classroom art projects

    Cut down on preschool supplies by reusing paper and plastic for art projects. Bright Hub’s own AmandakShannon explains how to make works of art from recycled materials. Bonnie explains the basic components of a preschool classroom in an article that makes it possible for the teacher to pinpoint areas for introducing recycled, recyclable, reusable or reused items.

    5) Switch to eco-friendly classroom supplies

    Big box office supply stores now regularly stock Paper Mate Earth Write pencils that are made from recycled materials. Faber-Castell makes giant eco-friendly color pencils that are guaranteed to be made from only reforested wood. One-hundred percent recycled white paper is now also a staple at local office supply stores. A bit harder to find locally are soy crayon-rocks that rely on soy wax and mineral powders for color vibrancy. Teachers may need to look to online sources for these excellent commercial crayon alternatives that are shaped to fit into smaller hands.

    Often overlooked go-green gadgetry in the classroom is the timer switch that keeps lights on for a predetermined period of time. Avoid forgotten lights that burn during recess or overnight. Whenever possible, rely on natural light from outdoors rather than turning on the overhead lights. Turn off the air conditioning and open the windows; encourage children to dress warmly in winter rather than over-heating the classroom.

    6) Continue to take small steps

    Sarah Russel points out some excellent ideas in 50 Ways to Go Green in the Classroom on the Teaching Tips site. One that lends itself to the early childhood classroom in particular is the suggestion to plan an eco-friendly field trip that targets a nearby venue rather than relying on a bus for transportation to a locale that is further away.

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    Enlisting the Preschool Parents’ Assistance

    Deciding to have an environmentally friendly classroom ideally becomes a partnership between the children, parents, and teachers. Communicate consistently with the parents and explain what the plans are for the gradual greening of the classroom experience. Solicit assistance in explaining the rationale behind the activities, and also encourage children’s families to go green themselves as an ongoing part of teaching the kids this life lesson.

    Of course, parental involvement can go further. Hold a meeting with the preschool parents and propose a ‘show and tell’ alternative that challenges the children to find and introduce environmentally friendly products. These may be items as small as eco-erasers (made from post consumer waste and recycled materials) or as squirmy as red worms from the at-home compost heap. In this way, the preschoolers are engaged inside as well as outside of the classroom and enter into meaningful dialog with parents and caregivers.

    Who knows, your commitment to go green in the preschool classroom may have a much larger impact within the community than just the preschool setting.