So long, Nature

Is it fear of letting our kids play outdoors, an over-scheduled life, or the lure of the screen that is causing “Nature Deficit Disorder”?

Richard Louv coined this term in his 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder”. Louv said when people hear this unofficial term, “they’re immediately familiar with the issue”.

At the University of Guelph, associate professor Nathan Perkins and grad student Sarah McCans researched the role mothers play in exposing children to nature and found that moms have “very vague and powerful fears” when it comes to letting their kids play unsupervised outdoors. As a result, this generation of youngsters mostly experiences nature as a programmed experience.

 It seems to me that a prerequisite of environmental stewardship (and sustainable living) would be a deep connection with the natural environment. Are we unwittingly unplugging our children from the wonders of the outdoors?

8 Ways to a Healthier School

As summer heats up and the classrooms empty, it’s a good time to consider the overall health of your school environment.  Here’s a list of the top offenders:

 8 Concerns for a Healthy School

1. Heating, cooling and ventilation. The quality of indoor air affects the health, learning and productivity of students. In some schools the fresh air supply has been closed off. In many others the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems (HVAC) are not properly cleaned, leaving dirty or mouldy filters to release allergens into the classroom.

2. Pest controls. Most schools use toxic chemicals to keep pests out of schools. In a survey in New York state, it was found that 87% of the schools used pesticides, all of which “contained substances which may cause immediate or long-term health problems.”

3. Cleaning products. Most products used to clean schools are corrosive and contain toxic irritants such as ammonia, ethanol or chlorine bleach. Disinfectants may contain naptha, cresol, lye and formaldehyde. Waxes and floor strippers contain toxic chemicals that can linger for days inside a schoolroom.

4. Chemicals. Photocopiers, dry-erase markers, wall paint, and science lab chemicals are among the polluting factors in schools, leaving noxious fumes and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the classroom and supply room air.

5. Fragrances. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA), fragrances cause 30% of all allergic reactions. When exposed to perfume, more than 70% of asthmatics develop respiratory symptoms. Tests have confirmed that perfume often shuts down learning capacity.

6. Site selection. A school building close to a highway will have a sizeable percentage of the exhaust-related pollution entering its grounds.

7. Lighting.  Inadequate daytime light exposure can cause lethargy. Daylight, with all its subtle changes of sunlight throughout the day, is the best base for providing healthy lighting in a classroom.

8. Art supplies.  Toxic art materials such as paints, clays, adhesives, and markers can impact the body through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact.

While this list can seem overwhelming, especially when we consider the consequences on the health of our children and teachers, there are so many green alternatives and practices that can be brought to our schools’ attention. Even one step towards a healthier school will make a big difference.

Information and stats from www.healthyschools.com

Year-end lesson ideas

Looking for a creative year-end classroom activity? Activities that create the opportunity for reflection, visioning and internalization are memorable for us all. Give your students a chance at the whiteboard with one of these fun and meaningful assignments. (Hint: this works in offices too!):

  • Write a motto, slogan, truth, etc based on learning from this year’s class
  • Create a huge Venn diagram on the board and have the students write words, symbols or simple drawings. Headings could include: School and Summer Vacation, or Formal and Informal Learning.
  • Draw a picture of your best moment this year
  • Write a phrase (e.g. Thank you, Goodbye, etc) in all different languages (students draw a language and look it up).
  • Draw one big collective picture on the board, based on an open-ended question or phrase (e.g. What I want the world to look like is… )

 To all the educators and administrators out there who are winding down for the school year, have a great summer!

Green Gift Ideas for Father's Day

It’s almost Father’s Day. A great time for breakfast in bed, homemade cards and crafts, and possibly a little indulgence for that special dad? This year consider going green with a father’s day gift that will resonate with the lifestyle of the special men on your list.

For the coffee-loving father, treat him with some organic coffee beans, a reuseable mug, or a ceramic travel mug to call his own. They now have ceramic mugs with lids at Chapter’s/Indigo. While there, you can check out their cool water-powered clock.

 For the office or classroom dad, get him his own AusPen starter kit. He’ll love having his own set of non-toxic refillable markers and keeping his office or classroom free of toxic marker fumes.

 For the gardener, try a compost bin, a garden ornament, or plant some herbs, a shrub or a tree for him in his own garden. Also, check out the new spray nozzle for your garden hose that monitors your water use with an LCD display! No garden at home? Think about donating toward the protection of land and animals with the Nature Conservancy.

 For the healthy eater, consider going for a meal at a restaurant that features local foods or follows the 100 mile diet. For a longer lasting meal, buy shares with a community supported agriculture (CSA) group for locally-grown veggies and fruit.

 For the runner, think about organic outdoor wear from outlets like Patagonia, or a new reuseable and BPA-free bottles like the ones from Sigg or Kleen Kanteen (for the month of June, Kleen Kanteen is donating $2 per bottle for Breast Cancer Prevention).

 For the shopping, gym-going, or book-carrying dad, www.reuseablebags.com has every type of bag. Speaking of bags, how about an eco-friendly diaper or messenger bag for the new dad? Most baby boutiques will stock masculine-looking bags made of recycled rubber or organic cotton.

 No matter which green gift you choose, the father you are honoring will certainly appreciate the eco-values you are supporting, especially if the gift is topped off with a personal touch such as photos, sincere words and some quality time.

Teacher gifts, with a little nudge

Q: How can I drop a hint to the parents of the kids in my class that AusPen non-toxic markers would make a great year-end thank you gift?

It’s a tricky question, but here are my thoughts.

 A: Teachers often include a short note in their class communications at Christmas and year-end asking parents who are considering giving a gift to make a donation to their favourite cause or to purchase something for the benefit of the class. Parents in the gift-giving mood will appreciate your helpful hint as long as there is no assumption that a gift must be purchased in the first place.

Have an idea? Post a comment. We`d love to hear your thoughts.

AusPen at Seattle Green Festival 2010

EcoSmart Products is proudly attending this weekend`s Seattle Green Festival – the world`s largest consumer event series dedicated to green products, organics, sustainability and social justice.

 In the area? Contact us at info@ecosmartworld.com for a complimentary pass to the Green Fest! Stop by the AusPen booth on June 5&6 at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, where you can chat with us and purchase AusPen starter kits at a special conference price.

 For more info on the festival, go to: http://www.greenfestivals.org/seattle/