My Near-O Waste Classroom

In the name of Near-O Waste, I’ve been overhauling my house, shopping habits, and life in general for the past nine months. Now it’s time to reevaluate the classroom I’ve been teaching in for the past eleven years.


Last year my students used post-its to mark their workbook pages. You can imagine how many they went through as the post-its lost their stick.

This year we’re using cardboard bookmarks cut from things like cracker boxes, Mad Libs covers, and Bee’s Wrap. Big positive- they last all year. Big negative- they don’t stick! Paint swatches would make lovely bookmarks too, but I don’t have any, and would rather use what I’ve already got.


Last year I covered my bulletin board with -you guessed it- bulletin board paper.

This year I covered it with maps from our summer road trip. And as you can see, I’m slacking on the adornment.


Last year I wrote my kids’ names on new post-its every time I wanted to change the grouping for work periods.

This year I’m using just 3 post-its (for as long as they’ll last) and rearranging sticky tag names on those 3 post-its.


Last year our school bought plastic pencil boxes for each student. This was my brilliant idea. But since I’ve started avoiding plastic, I’m a little regretful.

This year my mom made fabric pencil bags for each student that can be washed and reused year after year. We’re looking for a place to donate last year’s boxes.


Last year I wore “Hello, my name is” sticker tags to school functions.

This year I made a felt name tag (after a dad who knows about my near-o ways called me out for using a sticker). It clings to my shirt if the material’s compatible.


I’ve been buying brand new markers and crayons for the past 12 years, but this year I feel guilty and have realized I don’t need to do that every year. I sanitized last year’s markers with vinegar for a co-teacher and her class is using them happily. I can do this for my own class next year.




Good as new.

I kept the caps from the dry pens I threw out last year to use as math counters and I’ve read about recycling programs for markers and crayons that I could use in the future.

I was already communicating with my families via email last year (homework, calendars, reminders, and updates), but this year I’m avoiding even more paper by keeping notes on my iPhone and jotting down reminders on my whiteboard. When I have information that needs to be visible and mobile, I write it on old cards or my preschooler’s artwork.



This year I brought in my collection of old jam jars to hold sets of tens and ones made with beads and straws that I’ve been hanging onto for years. Each day we add one bead to the jar. Every ten days, we fill a straw to make a ten. Each student will end up with a set of 100 beads (ten straws with ten beads in each). Unfortunately, the straws are sealed with tape because I couldn’t think of a feasible, less wasteful way.


Day #1


Day #10

I’m also using beads and razor covers for multiplication and addition activities. I’m super happy with this reuse, but I’ll be even happier when my husband runs out of disposables and gets a Harry’s!

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I made job cards out of hotel keys I forgot to return and expired credit cards and gift cards. Yes, they are covered with kid-decorated stickers, I know, I know. But I already had those!



Frontside, backside.


To prevent loose papers from floating in, around, and out of my kids’ cubbies, I’m keeping their work in chronological “portfolios” (recycled cardboard binders) separated with monthly progressive calendars. I initially doubted the durability of the binders, as they’re not the sturdiest, but we’re handling them with care and they’re working out so far.

I knew I was taking a risk when I ordered mechanical pencils for the first time ever. I really wanted to give them a chance and my students were beyond excited to receive them. I like them because kids can’t pepper them with bite marks, I don’t have to sharpen them, in theory they shouldn’t have to be replaced, and in case of breakage, you have a new pencil with just one click. I don’t like them because their coolness is a distraction for some kids, if all the lead gets used up it’s really inconvenient for me to add more on the spot, the erasers come off (for adding more lead) so I sometimes find them on the floor, and they’re plastic and made in China. I did try a bamboo mechanical pencil, but it was no good. The ones I’m using in my classroom are sturdy with a thick lead for little hands. Overall, I’m happy with them, but am still working out the logistics.


Every year is a process, a learning experience, and an opportunity for growth and improvement. Time will tell which Near-O Waste methods are here to stay, and which will have to go! Have you made any Near-O Waste efforts in your classroom? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Upcycled Valentine’s Day Bags

Since I’ve converted to a Near-O Waste lifestyle, I’ve totally been rethinking my classroom! One of our first Near-O Waste projects was making Valentine’s Day Bags out of old gift bags, cardboard packaging, and newspaper. My students cut hearts and glued them onto some white paper bags that I had leftover from selling puppets. Not only was I able to shrink my paper stash at home, but my students made some really sweet and unique bags to fill with love… and reuse in the future!


Gift bags are perfect for cutting hearts because the edge is already folded! Yes, I realize I could just reuse them as what they already are- gift bags… but I want to get gift bags out of my house and find alternative (Near-O Waste) ways to wrap!

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Beep Bop Boop!

It’s time to admit that my standard book report form needs a little pizazz. After the Thanksgiving break, I’ll be introducing my first graders to… Beep Bop Book Reports with The Reading Robot! They will also be keeping track of how many books they read with the “Beep Bop Book Count”, which is a free download on Teachers Pay Teachers. My almost-five-year-old-son (who sported a self-made robot costume on Halloween) test colored- and loved- the “book count” robot. Beep. Happy Thanksgiving. Bop. Happy Reading. Boop!

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beepbopbookcount copy

And the Answer is…

The uses for my answer box are endless. Students place the materials they are using on the mat below the answer box; counters, letters, coins, shapes, flash cards, phonics items, etc. I give a prompt such as: Show me one way to make 15 cents. Which item has a short U sound in the middle? Show me six counters. Students place their answer in the answer box. This mat helps children stay organized and I can easily see their responses at a glance. You can download my answer box for free! (Laminate for durability.)

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Y, oh Y.

Here’s what we’re doing with the items in York the Yak’s letter bag tomorrow:

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My sentence strips help kids practice sight words and reading from left to right using their “reading finger”. You can download these for free. Print, cut, laminate, and use!

And, by the way, we are loving these little word-of-the-day readers…!

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Halloween Words in Halloween Sentences

And here’s one of our Halloween activities for Friday: “Halloween Words in Halloween Sentences”

Students read the Halloween word in the box, write a sentence using the word, and draw a picture. It makes a fun read aloud at circle time on Halloween. There are 12 different Halloween words. The words match those found in my Halloween Word Search.

Hope you have a sweet Halloween!