When after teaching about sustainability and healthy eating all year, we throw class parties using disposable plates and cups and eat over packaged junk food. When we and our students attend parties where large amounts of shiny brightly coloured plastic and foil is thrown in the garbage and we buy shiny brightly coloured plastic and foil to make Christmas decorations in class. When we buy new materials to make decorations that will be thrown into landfill in a few weeks and spend our own money to buy cheap presents that are also destined for landfill.
Despite the above rant, I am not Scrooge or the Grinch and I love Christmas. Let's think for a moment, about what Christmas in our classroom would look like, in an ideal world where we actually model year-round the qualities of sustainability and healthiness:
* Students would learn sustainable skills like cooking, singing, and recycling
* All decorations would be made from recycled materials
* Decorations would either be compostable or recyclable or of such high quality that they would be treasured for years to come.
* Food would be healthy
* Over-packaging of food would be minimised
* Food waste would be minimised
* Washable plates and cups would be used, washed and put away for the next class party.
* Instead of rubbish increasing by 30% over the Christmas period, rubbish would be utilised as a resource.
Read 1 Million Women's post on No Waste Festive Season to see the sort of impact you can have and then think about this multiplied 30 times as your students transfer these attitudes and skills home.
1. Buy a class size set of plastic mugs and plates from local second hand shops and put them in a plastic tub with tea towels and dishwashing liquid. They don't have to match and you don't need to spend a lot of money.
2. Give experiences rather than cheap small toys this year. The Christmas songs that you teach them, the food you prepare or cook together and the skills of making decorations are going to stay with them for life.
3. Get the students to help prepare the food. Use the plates as cutting boards and use steak knives to cut the fruit and vegetables into small pieces. Ask parents/grandparents to help you cook using a simple biscuit recipe. Maybe even a traditional Christmas biscuit from another country. Measuring out the ingredients is a thinking mathematically maths lesson and cutting out the dough into shapes is great fun. Borrow labelled trays from parents to have enough. Your main problem if you have a stove in the staff room is going to be the time it takes to cook all the biscuits. Ask a parent/grandparent for help with stove management.
4. Junk mail advertisements are a great source of colourful paper for making paper chains to decorate the classroom.
5.Make snowflakes from paper which has only been used on one side.
6.Use old Christmas cards and shiny and colourful lolly wrappers to make a laminated Christmas placemat.
7. Make tinsel by collecting foil (chip packaging is very good) and other plastics, sewing 7 layers together with string in a loose running stitch, and cutting with sharp scissors into tinsel. I make metres of it at home by using all plastics in the rubbish bin during November and December.
8. Teach and sing as many Christmas songs as you can.
9. Collect material such as felt, organza and fake fur from second hand shops thoughout the year so that you can make crafts.
10. Make Christmas decorations and games from recycled materials.
11. Use real evergreen pine, ivy and holly branches in florist foam to decorate in a traditional way. Brighten up with secondhand red decorations and ribbons. These are put in the compost bin afterwards.
12. Food scraps go the compost bin or chooks.
13. Wrap up 25 Christmas themed books in either newspaper or last year's Christmas paper and read one each day.
14. Use old Christmas cards to make Christmas card balls.
15. Use cereal boxes for your cardboard creations.
16. Challenge the students as to who can make the best recycled Christmas decoration out of household rubbish. I am still looking for the ultimate decoration to make from long life milk cartons.
WARNING: SUSTAINABLE CHRISTMAS CAN BECOME ADDICTIVE. You may find yourself hovering around your host at parties waiting to pounce on a particularly beautiful foil wrapping and saving the gold foil wrapping from Magnums (or worse buying a Magnum ice-cream for the foil wrapping).