By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.
As a teacher, I love celebrating Earth Day because it is so vital for my students to understand the importance of being environmental friendly. Here are some great ways to encourage your students to reuse, reduce, and recycle, regardless of grade level.
- Reuse: Have each student create an Environmental Social Contract that she or he can take home to share with their family. The contract can list three things they can do to help the environment. For example, turn off lights when not in the room, shut the water off when you’re brushing your teeth and never throw trash on the ground. Send a newsletter to the parents, asking them to have a discussion with their children regarding Earth Day and the importance of creating Environmental Social Contracts.
- Plant a Tree: A great project for the younger students can begin with learning about the plant life cycle. Purchase a package of tree seeds from your local nursery and have every child plant a seed in a cup. Have the students water the seed for the next couple of months in class. During this time, the students can monitor and measure growth. Have class discussions on all that is needed to grow plants. Once the plants start to sprout and the weather is a little warmer (for all of you Michiganders), have the students take their trees home to plant in their backyards. This project will give you a great opportunity to incorporate a Science take home lesson. Teachers can demonstrate the different parts of a plant, photosynthesis, and even have students do a reflective piece in Language Arts. I love those cross-curriculum moments!
- School Garden: Your school can begin a school garden. If a community garden seems like too much of a commitment, you can have your students and parents plant flowers around the school community, instead. Planting flowers will brighten up the school and give a great opportunity for your parents to get involved.
- Paper-Mache: Here is a great way to recycle old newspapers. You don’t have to be an art teacher for your students to make a fun paper-mache project. This project can cross curriculum with Social Studies by making a globe or even prepare for a class play by making masks. Send a letter to your class parents, asking them to donate old newspaper and before you know it, you’ll be ready for crafting.
- Community Clean-up: Students in grades six to eight can help with more hands on projects like community cleanup. A few years ago, my students helped transform an abandon alley that had not been cleaned in over twenty years. The transformation was remarkable. The work that the students were doing was so powerful that members of the community came out to help us clean the area. This is a great service learning opportunity to add to your lesson plans. When the students come back to class, have them write a reflection on how their actions can motivate other members of the community.
- Bird Boxes: Have your students reuse their milk/juice boxes and reconstruct them into bird houses. This can be done with a multiple of other household items that would regularly be tossed away. All you need is some scissors and a bag of bird seeds and you’ve got yourself a great lesson.
- Recycling: Start a recycling program with your students. Raise funds to purchase a few recycling bins to locate all over the building. Make sure you place one in the lunch room. You would be surprised to discover how many soda cans do not get recycled during the typical school lunch hour.
- Compost: Having a school compost bin can go a long way, especially if your school donates it to a local farmer or your school’s garden. The students can creatively decorate the bin and encourage the school-community to get involved with their mission.
- Community Hours: College students are always looking for creative volunteer opportunities. Some, especially those that are part of Greek life, are also required to do a certain number of volunteer hours for their membership. Check out local organizations that have multiple projects taking place in your area and get involved!
- Paint Tires: Reuse those abandon tires near the local elementary school and turn them into colorful flower pots. Paint the tires with bright paint, get a few bags of soil, some already bloomed flowers and you’ve got yourself a great opportunity to brighten a community. Partnering the college students with the elementary students would be an even better addition to an already awesome project. Talk about positive role models!
Whether you are painting tires or cleaning up a local park, the ideas are endless when it comes to celebrating Earth Day with your students. These projects are creative and fun. Most importantly, they will give your students the opportunity to understand the importance of taking care of the environment.