Sowing the Seeds – How to Grow an Eco Club for Youth

Have you ever wanted to help little Eco flowers grow?  Maybe you’re a community member, a parent or grandparent.  Over the years, I’ve belonged to four separate school groups (two of which I began from scratch) in three different cities, and I can easily say that starting a club takes very little effort, and there are loads of great activities to do with kids of all ages.

Ready to sprout some seedlings?  Visit a local primary school where you know the students or staff.  If the school already hosts an Eco club, ask to help out. Facilitators can always use an extra hand.  If a program doesn’t exist, volunteer to be a community leader.  Either option would require a vulnerable sector criminal record check – a prerequisite for anyone working with children in Ontario schools. The good news is the office staff can write you a letter that will get you a discounted rate when you apply. Another great place to encourage young minds is with your local Scouts group.  Leaders are always looking for people to share their Eco expertise.

There is a plethora of ways to engage this age group.  Younger children benefit most from playing outside in nature.  By learning to love the outdoors, they in turn strive to protect it.  Building bird/bee/bat houses, planting a garden, taking nature walks, and visiting local parks are great ways to start.  Inside, play a recycling sorting game, after which students can set up and run a program – and even compost with wiggly worms – in the school.  Another way to get youngsters on board is by creating a group name and motto, as well as making a mascot.  And there are simple activities like waste-free lunches and Lights Out! Fridays that help promote awareness and school-wide participation.

If you’re trying to foster growth in tweens and teens, look no further than your local high school (please note, volunteers here must also have a valid criminal record check on file). Most high schools already have established Eco clubs, but much like their primary counterparts, they would encourage community involvement.  High school clubs are where I’ve always found myself – and let me tell you – we never run out of things to do!  In addition to some of the aforementioned activities, the groups I’ve worked with have built outdoor classrooms with grants from the WWF, planted trees, created a graduation garden, enjoyed nature walks and community clean-ups, applied to become a certified Eco School (see next paragraph), and planned Earth Day activities.  We’ve performed school wide waste audits, run contests where we “Caught (recycling) students green-handed”, hosted documentary lunches, made t-shirts, and set-up tap water vs. bottled water taste tests.

With my current group, we’ve worked on improving recycling in the school by adding bins in strategic locations and setting up clear signage.  We’ve made GOOS (Good on one side) bins that encourage the use of scrap paper, and we’re in the midst of making a recycling station with mascot and ballot box in our front foyer.  We’ve certified our courtyard as a Wildlife Habitat with the CWF, and in doing so practised species identification, built a birdbath out of recycled materials, and dug in the dirt to plant milkweed.  We put on a holiday battery drive (and sold the car batteries brought in for fundraising!), and fostered saplings to reforest local outdoor spaces.  We’ve held a poster making session for the “Fridays for our Future” Climate March, and set up a marching spot by the school. In the future, we plan to educate the student body with a vermiculture compost for our courtyard, and team up with a local volunteer organization that maps fruit trees for harvesting (Hidden Harvest).   

Finally, no matter the age, there is no shortage of online communities that offer lessons, contests and activities.  To certify as an Eco School, visit: https://ecoschools.ca/at the beginning of September.  To participate in activities like Earth Hour, National Sweater Day, or the Polar Bear walk, sign up for WWF’s Living Planet @ School, at: https://schools.wwf.ca/primary/.  For lesson plans and units (endorsed by Environment and Climate Change Canada) that teach about Ocean Health and Plastics, visit Sea Smart’s: https://plasticsedkit.ocean.org/index.html.  And to participate in challenges that may lead to winning prizes, once a year (usually beginning of semester two), Canadian Geographic and Shell team up to present “The Classroom Energy Diet Challenge”. Staples also runs a yearly contest called: “Superpower your school”that awards 10 schools across Canada with twenty thousand dollars in tech to help with their Eco-initiatives.

As you can see, there is a myriad of ways to plant and nurture youth Eco clubs, and to have fun doing it.  So get planting!

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