Teaching Green: Eco-Conscious Schools

Deciding where to send a child to school is one of the most overwhelming decisions parents can face, especially with the plethora of options out there today. To narrow the playing field, eco-conscious moms and dads may want to look for educational philosophies that teach young children environmental responsibility.

The Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio Emilia educational methods all take a hands-on approach to nature, but with different tacks. Waldorf fosters a fantasy-rich connection with the Earth, Montessori offers useful and important facts about the natural world, and Reggio encourages open-ended questions about the environment. Here, we give a rundown of each method’s environmental techniques.

The Waldorf Way
In the early 20th century, Rudolf Steiner created the first Waldorf school. Today, this method is known for its gentle guidance and emphasis on all-natural materials. Waldorf-schooled children play with wool, wax, wood and cotton, and no plastics whatsoever. Young kids bake bread, play outside and sing songs about the seasons, while older children receive instruction through oral stories, fables and poems.

“Reverence for the earth is intimately woven into everything we do,” says Patrice Maynard, of the Associate of Waldorf Schools of North America. Waldorf teachers often share stories behind classroom items to engender a sense of appreciation and responsibility. For example, at the Charlottesville Waldorf School (CWS) in Virginia, students receive paper along with a simple story about a grandfather chopping down a tree, after which the wood is turned into paper. This way, the children understand the tree’s sacrifice and remember not to waste sheets.

“Steiner taught that our Earth is a gift to us,” says Vivian Jones-Schmidt of CWS. “We want to help nurture the child’s sense of gratitude.”

The Montessori Model
In Montessori schools, preschool-aged children learn the names of the five oceans and seven continents, match technical terms for leaf shapes (such as “ovate” and “cordate”) with the corresponding leaf, and study biology by assembling detailed wooden flower puzzles. According to Montessori philosophy, children have “absorbent minds” that soak up information like a sponge.

“We emphasize bonding to the earth,” says Angie Nielsen, a lower-elementary teacher at White Rock Montessori School (WRMS) in Texas. “By [focusing on] the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things, we make the world wondrous.”

At WRMS, teachers present lessons on how the air, soil, water and living things depend upon each other in theory and practice. Children have access to the school’s environmental-education teacher and the 5 1/2-acre wooded lot as an outdoor classroom, plus they work in the school’s organic garden weekly.

Reggio Emilia Research
“It’s a culture of inquiry,” says Judy Graves of the educational philosophy at the Opal School in Oregon. Graves is director at the Reggio Emilia-inspired public charter school. “Children give and receive interesting questions, intriguing puzzles and paradoxical concepts–then they play with these ideas,” she says. “The results can be profound.”

The Opal School prepares children to pay attention to nature and become stewards of the planet, while encouraging them to ask questions and find their own answers. As in the original Reggio preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, there is no standard curriculum. Children seek solutions to questions through science and art, using book research along with materials such as clay, watercolors and wire.

Teachers foster child-led “investigations,” another term for the oh-so-common “why’s” echoing in every parent’s ears. Graves remembers one student asking, “What would happen if we keep stepping on bugs?” The children debated, researched and imagined the world through an insect’s perspective. The kids decided “insects were integral to the natural world,” Graves says. “They became articulate and passionate about the need to support a sustainable planet.”

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By Lora Shinn, Kiwi magazine


Magdalena J.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you!

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for the post.

Kurt Valentine

Please sign this petition to support Marine Health Implementations

Kurt Valentine

Please sign this petition to support Marine Health Implementations

Trevor T.
Trevor T9 years ago

I want to let Jamie I. know that she's definitely got a great idea. What could be more important than teaching our children how to feed themselves AND take care of mature at the same time. Petition...?

Bonnie Kuelker
Bonnie Sue9 years ago


Dagaz Rising
Dagaz McFarland9 years ago

I'm disappointed to see an article at Care2 promoting the Waldorf schools, which are very controversial. Please do your homework thoroughly before considering a Waldorf school for your children.

Rajesh Gupta
Rajesh Gupta9 years ago

Reuse, recycle, be Vegan.. these are all GREEN recipes.. for young.. and all..