Each school year is an opportunity to review and do better.
And with every passing year the need to be mindful of the environment, to live more sustainably, gets more urgent.
Schools are bustling, hectic environments, filled with inspiration, passion, excitement, with great potential for fresh ideas thanks to the wonderful creative minds of our young children and students.
How can we encourage them, the problem solvers of the future, to think about the environment?
How can we engage the whole parent community in behaving more sustainably?
How can we bring more eco-friendly practices into busy, learning focused settings, without increasing the burden on teachers and staff?
Put embracing nature right at the heart of school culture and life.
Of course, children are used to playing outside in breaks and at lunchtime. It’s where they get fresh air, freedom, and space to play and explore. For very young children, making nature and outdoor space appealing is easy. But as they get older, pupils are probably more likely to sink into their devices and reserve outdoor activity for sports if that’s their thing. So how can nature play more of a role?
If schools have the space, creating an outdoor classroom can be a lovely way to normalise being and learning outdoors, with all years and classes making use of it. Equally a ‘quiet’ area could also be created, with benches for contemplation and getting away from the buzz.
If it’s possible, get pupils involved in growing and picking produce in a vegetable garden. If this produce can be used in the school kitchen or in cookery classes or clubs, it’s a great way to engage kids in the cycle and importance of nature.
School trips and outdoor projects can also be a great way to learn about the environment. The Eden Project in Cornwall is obviously a fantastic destination, but many areas will have botanical, environmental, and nature-based activity centres and venues which can be explored.
Make some homework, or holiday projects, environment and nature based. In one school, the sign-off of the Head at the end of every term is ‘Go climb a tree’. This embeds a strong message about the importance of enjoying nature.
Making protecting the environment a challenge and an achievement to be celebrated.
Schools are brilliant at running initiatives and getting students involved – especially if it can be made competitive. Kids just love junk modelling projects – why not have house or class competitions for the best one.
School Councils are also a great place for students to put forward ideas for change, and ‘sell’ them to the school community. It may be as simple as running a poster competition with the winner having their posters put up around the school encouraging eco-friendly behaviour. With older children it could be an opportunity to bring together science and technology and come up with innovative ideas on how to improve the environment or do things differently.
If you are looking to reduce plastic or save paper, having ‘champions’, rewards, and prizes will ensure the whole community is kept engaged and aspire to better practices.
Selecting an environmental charity as a school charity for a term or year could also help put this on the agenda and in the minds of pupils.
And running initiatives such as walk to school days or car sharing schemes, with stickers or prizes for all who take part may turn into positive long term behaviour, helping to reduce the carbon footprint.
Make bite-size easy day to day swaps and changes
Small changes or swaps taken over the size of a school, particularly large secondary schools, would result in a significant impact.
It could be that one letter or newsletter or piece of information previously sent out as paper, is moved online.
It could be that instead of starting the new year with a whole new set of workbooks, children fill up their previous ones.
It could be that some products frequently used by the school are changed to more eco-friendly ones with sustainable packaging, such as cleaning supplies, hygiene products, or classroom items.
Maybe the school can identify an area where recycling could be improved. Or run swapping schemes for toys/books/second-hand uniform.
Encourage eco-friendly behaviour throughout the school such as turning off lights, turning off monitors, reducing printing and paper in offices in favour of digital versions. Added up this move towards greater energy efficiency will make a big difference.
So, this academic year, let’s get even greener in our schools.