I remember my school days well. Elementary school found that Earth day invariably had an art project tied to themes like recycling. Repurposed foam and plastic would get cut up, hot glued, glittered and otherwise turned into some childhood bit of art. At the time it felt nice to be creative and it gave an illusion of doing something to save the world.
The thing is, I don't know anyone whose art project was still around the next year. Most of them broke even before they got home and those that did were probably not kept for more than a year or two at most. Then they go into a trashbag to create even more waste than if the original trash had been let go of. (after all hot glue, glitter, etc all come from similar sources). The recent thoughts of eco art got me thinking about those days again and wondering if perhaps there wasn't a more meaningful way.
This led me to an unrelated lesson about paper. It was the year our teacher was all about doing more than just learning. We made candles and rag rugs for studying pioneer days for example. Among those projects was this gem, where we broke down scraps of spent paper into pulp and then created new paper out of it. It taught us about recycling, a bit about paper creation, etc. Each of us ended up with a rather rough and thick bit of paper to take home. Mine stayed around for years in fact. I would probably still have it if I hadn't had to do a massive reduction in the things I owned a few years back.
I figure that with all the writing practice and scrap bits of construction paper, it could make a great project to focus on making your own paper from these old bits. Children would learn about paper making, recycling and at the end would have sheets of thick construction-style paper to cut up and make into yet more projects. It wouldn't add any new trash to the mix and if one project was getting junked, it could just be pulped and made into yet another bit of new paper. The colors aren't spectacular, but I know my kids could care less. Lot less trees getting ripped down just to feed my kid's scissors at the very least.
Anyone have any other ideas for earth-friendly art projects for kids? Things that will have a lasting and meaningful impact both on the children and for the world as a whole? Things that are more than sticking googly eyes and glitter on egg cartons at the very least!
You are right! paper making with kids is a great way to use up classroom scraps of paper, and in the warm days- using a kiddie pool and old window screens to pour the pulp through while working outside can give you some nice big sheets to work with- you can use of course garden scraps too! or food scraps like onion skins, all these things can make some great paper- you just need an old blender and all those bits add some pretty colour and flecks to the paper pulp. A good friend of mine used to teach printmaking and paper making at a local art college- he would teach book binding as well- but what drove him nuts was that people would then be too precious about the books they made- they wouldn't want to use them, just hold onto them as these objects to covet...paper making was really popular for a decade or so- we saw a huge resurgence, and I think it burnt out a bit partially because people didn't embrace it through to the useful aspect- they kept their paper precious! (humans are a funny species aren't they?)
I also have an aversion to the glue gun and glitter projects! I like what you said about a teacher doing ragrugs- Tim Johnson in England has done some stunning kids projects http://www.timjohnsonartist.com/education-projects/ that are worth checking out- I particularly like his rope making with old plastic bags- they idea of taking old bags that won't break down, teaching kids how to make rope them, and then you can use that rope to make net carry bags- that will last!! teaches a full loop cycle- something practical and useful, Using a plastic bag that only has a few uses before being landfill and the skills our ancestors developed to make carry bags for migratory and hunting purposes...and now we can use those skills again- and re-purpose with what we find around us. I think rope making is a skill every person should know how to do. And then having the fun as class of discovering what different materials in your surrounding can be cut up and made into rope. Natural and human made materials are both full of rope making options! This of course then also leads to drop spindling- the same physics apply of two plied yarn and 2 plied rope. My studio mates and I had a show a few months ago of various ropes and yarns dyed with local materials, the lines just all hung off a pole in straight lines, people could handle them- they were labeled so you could learn which was ivy, or nettle, or eel grass, wool or cedar...etc It was amazing how much that show resonated for folks, lots of feedback to how amazing it was- and yet so simple!
So for a classroom- start with rope!!
I also answered a question about homeschooling and outdoor projects, and wrote about another project I do with groups of kids ( and adults) have a read of that post for info on what i call ephemeral mosaics- when I did that as a residency with kids from grade k-7, I just tweaked the level of the project for each grade, and had students do charts of id'ing plants by their growth patterns, and we did nature studies, drawing the seeds or objects first. My friend Lori Weidenhammer who I was doing the residency with taught the principles of Haiku poetry, and had the kids sit outside for 10 minutes, just listening and looking, then they wrote their own Haiku's- they were fabulous! WAYYY better then gold sprayed and glittered macaroni pictures...
End note_ I was trying to find the great photos on Tim Johnson's website of him using different coloured plastic bags for rope making- couldn't find them, but as always spent an inspiring amount of time just looking at his website- a must see! here is a link to classroom project on disguise- which I think is a fabulous way to reclaim Halloween from being store bought throw away costumes, check it out here: http://www.timjohnsonartist.com/costume-disguise/costume-workshops/
Practice being a Maker without first being a Consumer whenever possible...