A few posts ago, I mused about environmental health questions to ask schools before enrolling your children in them. I had been spurred to think about this by my 2-year-old, who will enter a lovely co-op nursery school (for a whopping 1.5 hours a day, 2 days a week with me or her dad in tow) this fall.
A week or so after we got our acceptance letter for preschool (anyone else think this whole process is a bit theater of the absurd?), I got a press release announcing the first green preschool in New York City: LePetitParadisPreschool.com. It also happens to be a French immersion program. Obviously the green part enticed me (good paints and toys, low flow toilets, organic snacks), and I just so happen to have majored in French in college, so I called the founder up to talk about it. I wound up writing about the school in New York Magazine, where Im the kids editor. The short article immediately got picked up by media gossip sites like Gawker.com and people had a field day with the concept in comments.
A sample: The phrase 'organic pre-school' brings to mind a collective of three year-olds who decided, unbidden, to band together and pre-school themselves. Which would probably be every bit as effective as mung bean puree and compact florescent Barbies at preventing these poor kids from a future of sucking at life.
I get why the general idea of organic preschool is funny. Im not without humor about my choices. But there is some fundamentally simple yet crucial information these comments read all together -- show me. People like to dismiss being careful about childrens environment as overparenting. They still dont understand how little is regulated when it comes to carcinogens and neurotoxins offgassing into our childrens breathing space via building materials and things like cleaning products and pesticides. They dont get how fundamentally unprotected we all are.
This might be New Yorks first preschool situated, by the way, in the least green 'hood in the city The Upper East Side. I mean even Whole Foods hasnt bothered opening up there. But it surely wont be the last. Because despite the negative feedback on other sites like Stuff White People Like theres no denying this is the way of the future. Even if schools dont choose to market themselves as eco, Im sure many more will be looking into low- to no-VOC paints and other building materials when freshening up, unpainted wood toys over plastic toys, and third party certified industrial strength green cleaners. No one wants their kids to have asthma or cancer. The science is there and the legislation is slowly starting to catch up.
In other parts of the country, which are decidedly greener than New York (though our marvelous, fabulous, to-die-for public transportation system makes all of us city dwellers greener than most), these sorts of schools are popping up as well. The Oregon Environmental Council has an eco-healthy childcare checklist for childchare providers to go through in order to be certified, and theyve had many takers. Questions include whether they recycle, shun pesticides and wall-to-wall carpet, and use nontoxic cleaners. www.oeconline.org/kidshealth/schools/
I dont mean to dis New York. Since 2006 all of our public schools have been required to only use green cleaners. Public School 154 in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn just abandoned single-use polystyrene lunch trays and replaced them with bagasse versions. This is a natural, nontoxic, and biodegradable material made out of discarded sugar cane stalks. 154s playground is being built from recycled material and its science lab will have a windmill and a solar powered water fountain. I often get press releases about eco-friendly offerings in the private school arena one recently let me know that Trevor Day Schools students are actively pushing the administration to make things greener. This rings true to me. Greening schools is currently as much about activism as anything.
When I was pregnant, I wrote the book. Now that I have a kid, Im all about the green parenting. As the babe gears up to start preschool in the fall, I know this is my next phase. Im starting by getting all of my suggestions here: HealthySchools.org.
Get ready for Ask an Organic School Activist.
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