Eco-friendly gifts for your kids’ teachers

A cutting from your favourite plant, a card, homemade jam: Teacher gifts that are easy on the Earth (and your budget).

Parents: We are so. Close. I know you’re exhausted but take heart: the end is in sight. The school year — with its early mornings and lunch bags, permission forms and library books, homework and lost backpacks — is nearly over. We have just a few more weeks, a few more carpools. All you need to do now is find perfect end-of-year gifts for your kids’ teachers.

Sigh. Teacher gifts. They’re one more item on our already too-full to-do list. They cost money. Plus, they so easily add to the piles of waste and “stuff” that we’re all trying to get OUT of our own homes. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure that the vast majority of gifts are given with great generosity of spirit, but how many inspirational plaques or drugstore boxes of chocolate does any teacher need? (Okay, maybe some need the chocolate … but you see my point.)

But we’re here to help! If you’re tired of struggling to come up with meaningful gifts or are stressed out by their environmental impact, you can relax. Here are several options for local, eco-friendly gifts that won’t break the bank:

Locally produced food is a great idea. My go-to gift for years has been jars of raspberry jam, made with berries picked during the summer months. Other friends have given locally produced honey, canned peaches and other preserves, baked goods — even homemade wine. If you’re not big into canning, consider a gift certificate to your local farmer’s market or farm store, or a community-supported-agriculture box.

Give experiences rather than things: what about a gift certificate to your local movie theatre, independent restaurant or coffee shop, or *cough* the wine store? Sometimes, these gifts do double (or even triple) duty: my local symphony, for example, sells “Food for the Soul” coupons to local restaurants. The teacher gets a coupon to use at a local restaurant, the symphony gets a donation, and no one accumulates unnecessary stuff.

Plants are an easy and (literally) green option. Whether a cutting from one of your cherished house plants (I’ve got several jade-plant “babies” ready to give away), a tomato or herb plant for a garden or windowsill, or a plant from a local nursery – these gifts are biodegradable and reduce greenhouse gases. One friend made succulent terrariums with her kids to give to their teachers. (Just watch out for plants or cut flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides and/or shipped from overseas.)

Instead of buying yet another mug or picture frame, why not make your money work harder with a charitable donation? “A monetary donation to a local food bank in my name was one of the best gifts I received!” one teacher told me — and several others agreed. You can direct funds to any number of local, national, or international organizations doing environmental work.

Maybe it sounds too selfless to be true, but several teachers said they most appreciated a simple note, card or drawing to say thanks for a great year, maybe detailing a favourite or memorable moment from class. Or what about a framed wordle, made with words that your child uses to describe their teacher? For the more ambitious gifters among you: “One year a mom had her daughter keep a journal over the year of special things that happened in class — that was a lovely keepsake,” a teacher friend told me. “I’ve kept them all,” said another of the cards she’s received.

And finally, what about no gift at all? According to another teacher friend, only a small minority of students actually give end-of-year gifts or cards these days. They’re not obligatory. So if time, money, energy levels, or values are getting in the way of trying to find the perfect (or at least adequate) present for your kid’s teacher, then embrace minimalism and skip the gift — and the guilt. School’s out.


SUSAN GOLDBERG is a writer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Her writing has
appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines,and several anthologies, includingChasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and coeditor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families.

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