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How to REALLY green your child's classroom in five easy steps

The first day of school: it is a blessing and a challenge.  When your child is at home, it seems easier to be in control of their safety. Then one day your child goes off to their first day of school (think cute little back pack and a last wave as they disappear through the door) and everything changes. “My teacher said...” becomes a routine saying at home and all of the sudden your baby is demanding that you start recycling.

Ideally every childcare setting would be green and healthy. After all, your child will spend 1/3 of his or her day there.  Studies show that more than half of U.S. schools suffer from problems related to indoor air quality (which is typically more polluted than outdoor air even in the best situations). Indoor air quality issues can affect teacher retention, student performance, (and ultimately) school funding.

Indoor air quality isn’t the only issue you can affect at your child’s school: food, toys, furniture, waste, cleaning, hand-washing and skincare routines are just some of the classroom practices that have a health effect on your child and the planet.

At The Green Mama we wish all schools taught environmental health and environmental ethics as part of the curriculum, but just as important as what is taught—even more important—is what is practiced.  The air your child breathes, the food s/he eats, and the products your child is exposed to at school can have long-term health implications for your child and for the Earth.

What can YOU do (realistically) to help (really) green your child’s school?

1. Make indoor air quality a priority. Children breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Poor indoor air quality can cause or trigger asthma in children and common indoor air pollutants, such as some paints, varnishes, and cleaning products, have even been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, and hormone issues. If a daycare or classroom smells bad (or perfume-y), then something is probably going wrong with the indoor air quality.  Bleach and floor cleaners (and waxes), perfumes, and even markers can be common culprits.

Three ways a school can improve their indoor air quality (and that you can help implement as a parent):

Clean up the cleaning routine.  There are various rules and regulations that monitor how daycares and schools clean: what products they can use, how much, and when. Unfortunately, many of these regulations don’t take into account information on long-term health effects of common cleaning products. “Repeated exposure may increase your child’s risk of developing cancer, reproductive problems, or other serious health conditions,” says the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

In 2007, the State of Illinois passed the Green Cleaning Schools Act, which mandates green cleaning policies (although there is an opt-out clause if it will be cost prohibitive, only four school districts have taken advantage of it.)  By the end of 2009, there were 10 states with similar legislation and 5 more considering similar laws.

Resources to help convince your child’s school/daycare. The Green Mama has a Green Cleaning Cheat Sheet especially for childcare settings. The EWG has an informative Benefits of Certified Green Cleaning Supplies tip sheet and one for talking to schools about the issue. The EPA has IAQ Tools for Schools action kit with resources for school officials and parents.

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