It’s very easy to go all-in and overbuy when it comes to homeschool supplies (ask me how I know). But with all of the talk of climate issues, minimalism movements, and generally trying to take better care of our planet, I’ve begun to look into lowering our own carbon footprint here at home. It’s so important to keep in mind that no one person can do everything or make a globe-changing impact with their own actions, but if we all try, if we all help, if we all take steps towards living with less waste, we can all, together, make a difference.
One of the areas where we’ve made the commitment to go greener is our homeschool. We’ve done unit studies on alternative energy and have delved deeply into conservation, but just learning about how to help wasn’t enough. I felt impressed to walk the walk and truly model a low-waste lifestyle in our homeschool.
The first thing people typically imagine when they hear low waste is a barren home, devoid of all decoration and excess. This does not have to be the case! You can still have a home – and a homeschool – full of treasures without contributing to the excessive waste in our landfills.
I couldn’t homeschool without books. Lots of books. We have shelves and shelves of books that are devoured frequently and with great fervor. How can I possibly continue a literature-based homeschooling model with all those books while attempting to produce less waste? Easy! Buy used.
Every book that you buy used is one less book in a landfill. There are plenty of places to find used books, too. Used book stores, curriculum swap meets, buy/sell/trade groups, library sales, garage sales, thrift stores… the possibilities are nearly endless! Your carbon footprint is even smaller if you can purchase these locally.
Every time you purchase locally, you are foregoing the use of shipping materials, usually shipping materials made from plastics that won’t break down for thousands of years. When you purchase something nearby instead of ordering it online, you are also saving the gas that would have been used in the journey from warehouse to your house. Imagine the amount of fuel alone used when you order online twice a week. Now imagine the pollution, chemicals, and fossil fuels that will be kept out of the air when you drive your family car across town versus a semi truck across the state.
Books, desks, bookshelves, experiment materials, globes, decorations, microscopes, telescopes, chalkboards, maps… Almost anything you can use in your homeschool can be found for sale, locally, second-hand and often cheaper.
Attend homeschool conventions in your area so that you can purchase curriculum that would otherwise only be available to buy online. Hop on to Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, 5 Mile, Craigslist, or any number of apps and websites to find what your neighbors have to sell, and marvel at how long your trash bag lasts without needing to be replaced when you’re not stuffing it with shipping materials, packing lists, and plastics a few times a week.
When you need a book and can’t find a used copy or there’s no way to purchase it locally, try to find an option to download the e-version or an audiobook reading. An electronic download of a book will take up no additional space and won’t need to be repurposed once you’re finished with it. It doesn’t need to be shipped or recycled, can be accessed almost anywhere at anytime, and doesn’t require any trees to be printed on. E-versions of books can even be projected onto a screen when there is need for multiple students to access it, such as in a co-op.
Many curriculum companies now offer online classes, as well, eliminating both the paper that would be required to print workbooks and textbooks and the waste that is inevitable when using consumable worksheets.
There comes a time in every homeschool when experiments pop up. They’re great for getting hands-on experience, understanding a concept better, and just making learning fun.
But what about all those materials that you just throw away when you’re done?
Instead of ordering extensive experiment kits or running to multiple stores finding items you’ll only use once, put some thought and research into how you can better use an experiment. Perhaps instead of just mixing random chemicals to observe a reaction, you can mix ingredients to cook or bake something. Maybe a compost pile or starting garden seedlings could provide the same scientific observations. Or instead of ordering a frog online, you could dissect a chicken as you prepare it for dinner.
Find ways to use what you experiment with, to make them work not just for your child’s education but for your whole home. Don’t do experiments just for the sake of them, do them in a way that teaches while contributing.
It’s catchy because it’s useful – the three easiest ways to reduce your waste is to reduce what you use, reuse what you can, and recycle what you can’t.
When you have to order something online, reuse the boxes in a compost pile or to block weeds in the garden. Dive into recyclables and plastics with your kiddos and learn about which kinds can be recycled and where to take them. Use scrap paper. Keep junk mail for scratch pads, or tear it up and learn how to make more paper out of it (bonus – another experiment!). Use the library’s books and DVDs instead of buying your own. Look at what you use the most and find a way to use it less, to use it again, or to pass it on to someone who can use it.
Taking steps towards lowering your waste and carbon footprint aren’t always easy. A lot of the things we have polluting our air and overwhelming our landfills are items of convenience, things we use out of habit. It takes thought and intention to reduce the impact you make on the planet.
Take some time to discuss the importance of your actions with your children. Consider a unit study with them, diving into recycling and green energy. Don’t beat yourself up when there’s something you have to order or something that gets tossed into the garbage. Don’t feel like you can’t make changes if you don’t have a garden or can’t save the planet if you’re not raising worms. Just be mindful and intentional, buy with purpose and use with care. Your homeschool can end up impacting more than just your child.