This week I am again participating in David Suzuki's Queen of Green Better Back To School Brigade, to discuss ways to reduce the environmental impact of back to school, which can often be significant with the waste that is produced from shopping, lunches, and commuting. This week's theme is greening school supplies. Click on the badge to the left to visit the Queen of Green's site and read all the other amazing bloggers take on greening back to school.
In the school district where I work and my children go to school, the purchasing of school supplies is done by the individual schools (based upon teachers' preferences from a preapproved list) and families are asked to pay a very small fixed amount for the entire year's supplies. Aside from additional items not covered that a teacher may request, my back to school supplies shopping is covered. Therefore greening school supplies at the point of purchase it out of parents' hands where I live.
As a teacher, and an adult in my children's lives, however, I can have a big impact upon how they use the supplies. Schools use a tremendous amount of paper and there is the potential for great wastage. Below is a list of ways to be more green (be less bad) in the use of school supplies at school and at home. As parents we can encourage our children to be more mindful in their use of school supplies, but it is also good to be aware of what teachers can do to make a difference.
- Teach children to take good care of and keep track of their belongings, both at home and at school, so that pencils, erasers and other supplies do not go missing. This is just common sense, but I am always surprised by the number of students who do not keep their materials in a pencil box or who do not clean up their desks on a regular basis. I have helped many students clean out their desk because they have misplaced their work, only to find twelve barely used pencils in their desk. Or there are those students who do not clean off the surface of their desk at the end of the day who are surprised that the loose pencil crayons they left all over are now missing.
- Similarly, teach children to take good care of school materials in general, at home and school, so that things are not carelessly broken, requiring replacement. Kids drill holes in their desks, lean back in their chairs which weaken the legs, and bang on computer mice and keyboards. Yes, I know, easier said than done. I am a parent and I am constantly working on this one.
- Have a lost and found box for everything that is found on the floor so that new packages of materials are not needlessly opened. When a student says they have no pencil or eraser I direct them to the lost and found box to find one to use.
- Building on the idea of a lost and found box, collect all the loose pencil crayons or felts and have in a big tub for students to use when their own materials run out or go missing. At the end of the year I have students go through the tubs to check for worn out felts and ensure that everything in the tub is in working order for the following year. They often don't need a whole new pack of felts when just one or two colours run out.
- Encourage students to use the whole page in notebooks. They often like to use one side of the paper and leave the back of the page blank because it looks neater, but this is very wasteful. It is easy for organizational purposes to leave the rest of a page blank at the end of an assignment but I teach students to skip a line or two (or even draw a line across the page for visual purposes) then begin the next one. We talk about why we do this and why it is important so that I guarantee more buy in, instead of having to remind them on a weekly basis.
- Children naturally opt for a blank, clean piece of paper for their work, and it is our job to teach them when they can use scrap paper instead. In many classrooms teachers have scrap paper bins for writing drafts, sketching, math thinking and computations, etc. It is also important to teach students to also put their used paper (still useable on one side, larger scraps) into the scrap bin for others to use rather than throw it into the recycling bin. I add leftover notices, worksheets, etc. into the bin as well.
- Before grabbing a new notebook, look through existing ones to see if there are empty pages. Toward the end of the school year, look through books for blank pages and spaces that can be used first. For new projects we sometimes flip a notebook upside down and backwards to use the back of the book. All it takes is a creative cover / title page to create a new theme.
- When using art supplies, teach children to only take what they estimate needing. For example, they can share a piece of construction paper to cut down on the scrap waste after cutting a whole piece of paper for a small amount. Or they can share a tray of paints amongst several students.
- Encourage schools to have the option of electronic newsletters via email or school websites.
- Cut down on the amount of photocopying! It is important for parents to know that often there aren't enough textbooks for every student, and for homework it isn't possible to share books. In those cases teachers must photocopy pages. For time management reasons it isn't possible, or realistic, to ask students to handcopy pages of work. As a teacher I am being honest when I say, however, that there is too much photocopying done in schools. There are solutions, such as a Risograph (or Riso printer) that can print on newsprint paper and are cheaper per click than photocopiers. But there are also alternatives to copying work, and I can't help but think about schools throughout the world that survive and thrive without this technology. My job share partner and I have made a pact that this year we will think of instructional alternatives before opting immediately for photocopying, and we will only use scrap paper (ie: used on one side) when we need to copy.
Don't forget to enter the Queen of Green Better Back To Brigade week two giveaway. Enter the contest below for your chance to win!