5 Humane Tips for Starting the School Year

Backpacks, bells, and bus schedules are taking center stage as millions of kids, parents, and teachers jump into a new school year. If you’re a parent, it’s a great time to start integrating humane choices into your child’s school experience (and inspiring others in the process).

Here are 5 tips for a humane start to school.

  1. Supply sustainably & humanely. Millions of kids times the number of years they go to school equals a lot of school-related supplies. While it feels nice to get something shiny and new at the start of each year, the true toll can be quite high. Start by reusing and revamping whatever you can from previous years. Get creative in giving things like the old backpack and lunchbag a new look (dye, paint, decorate, etc.).  Look for fun DIY options, such as a duct tape pencil case.

    If something must be new, invest in eco-friendly, healthy, humane products. There are numerous online stores for purchasing recycled or eco-friendly paper, pens and pencils, backpacks, crayons, lunch bags, etc. If you don’t know where to start looking, there are a slew of blogs and news outlets that cover green products and supplies each fall. Try a web search for “eco-friendly school supplies” or “green back to school,” being sure to also think about the impact of those school supply choices on people and animals. (Many “big box” stores are also starting to carry more eco-friendly supplies.)

    And when it comes to clothes, back-to-school doesn't have to mean supporting sweatshops. Thrift stores, clothing swaps, and sweatshop-free products all offer alternative choices.
  2. Build a positive relationship with teachers from the start. Get to know your child’s teachers and other members of the school so that you can learn to know them as people and develop a positive relationship. Find out what their needs and goals are and how you can support them in meaningful ways. If there's something teachers need to know about your child (such as that she's vegan), don't wait weeks into the year until a conflict arises; tell them at the start and let them know how you'll help address the situation (such as keeping the teacher stocked with plenty of vegan snacks for your child).
  3. Get creative with transportation. Shuttling all those children to school usually means lots of cars on the road, contributing to air pollution, greenhouse gases, and more. Consider what you're options are. Can you set up a carpool with trusted neighbors? Is school close enough for your child to bike (with you along if you're concerned about safety -- plus you both get exercise!)? Is it possible to start a Walking School Bus program? What about public transit and/or the school bus? Look for solutions that best fit your needs.
  4. Plug in using your passion. A school needs its community, and parent participation is essential. It's important to find a way to contribute, but you want to serve in a way that helps the school AND fulfills you. As IHE president, Zoe Weil, relates in her book, Most Good, Least Harm, when her child's school asked her to bake cookies, it always felt like an obligation; but when the school asked her to teach a humane education lesson, she felt invigorated and joyful doing so. Find out what the school needs, and then find the best way for you to plug in.
  5. Establish a reputation as a reliable, humane resource. Once teachers and administrators discover that you're responsible, reliable, compassionate, and credible, they'll be more open to your positive ideas to help and enhance the class: from integrating humane lessons, to starting recycling programs, to reducing waste, to promoting healthier and more sustainable snacks, to reducing various “prints” --carbon footprints, foodprints, waterprints -- to starting a gardening program or fair trade fair, and so on. They may even come to you for suggestions.
There are nearly unlimited ways to help your family and your community's schools make choices that do the most good and least harm for all people, animals, and the planet. Start with small steps, and soon you'll be working up to powerful changes.

~ Marsha

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