Getting your family ready for the new school year can be bittersweet, and as you drop your child off for their first day of school, it’s easy to feel anxious about whether or not you’ve prepared them for success in the upcoming year. Even if you were able to get them everything on their back-to-school shopping list, you know your child’s ability to learn and grow depends on what happens once they enter the classroom–but what if it turned out their classroom was hindering their productivity and overall health?
Unhealthy classrooms are much more common than we realize, and one of the main culprits is hiding in plain sight: the quality of air children are breathing in their classrooms.
Many of us take for granted that the air we’re breathing is healthy and safe since it’s not something we can typically see–but this isn’t the case, especially for air that’s indoors. In fact, indoor air can be 5x more polluted than outdoors, which can affect allergies, asthma, our ability to concentrate, the quality of our sleep, and more. Particularly “unhealthy” or “bad” air can even cause a variety of health problems, including dry skin and eyes, coughing and sneezing, headaches, hives, and nausea.
On average, children spend about 900 to 1,000 hours inside a classroom throughout a typical school year, which is a significant amount of time to be breathing unhealthy air. Since the air we breathe plays an important role in our productivity, decision-making, and concentration, it’s crucial that we advocate for our schools to pay better attention to the air quality it’s providing to its students.
Keeping the air healthy in classrooms is much easier than it seems–all it takes is understanding what could be potentially harming it’s indoor air quality, then making small adjustments to fix the issue (or issues). To help you better understand if your child’s classroom has healthy air, we’ve outlined a few common causes for unhealthy air in classrooms, and what you can do to help:
Not Enough Fresh Air
The best way to keep indoor air clean and healthy is by allowing outdoor air to flow in. “Stale” air that isn’t properly ventilated can fill with carbon dioxide, especially in classrooms that are packed with students. Carbon dioxide is notorious for causing drowsiness, lack of concentration, and confusion, all of which can affect your child’s ability to effectively learn.
Encourage your child’s teachers to have a healthy flow of fresh air into the classroom by leaving a few windows or the front door open throughout the day–this is especially effective for pushing carbon dioxide out of the classroom, giving your child a better opportunity to focus.
If your child’s classroom has an air conditioning and heating system, it could be affecting their ability to concentrate. This is mainly due to the vents used in A/C and heating systems in classrooms. Vents can collect dust, mold, and other allergens, all which will blow into the classroom’s air when the teacher decides to warm up or cool down the room. Dust can especially irritate your child’s eyes, skin, and ability to breathe, all of which will disrupt their concentration.
If you can, work with your child’s school’s administration to see if they know to change the filters in classroom ventilation systems–most allergists recommend replacing the filters in vents every three months.
We know schools and students are notorious for spreading germs (especially during flu season), and to combat this schools will typically have their classrooms cleaned often by cleaning crew. Unfortunately, the type of products cleaning crews or teachers use to disinfect classrooms can contain harmful chemicals known as VOCs, which will evaporate from desks and bookcases long after they’ve been cleaned. VOCs can give students flu-like symptoms, including dizziness, headaches, nausea, coughing, and sneezing.
Advocate for your child’s school to use safer alternatives to common cleaning products, including VOC-free disinfectants.
Making sure you child is learning in a safe and healthy environment shouldn’t have to be a challenge. One of the best ways your child’s school can make sure it has healthy indoor air for its students is by empowering teachers to understand what’s in the air in their classrooms with help from an indoor air quality monitor, like Awair. Awair tracks toxins and chemicals in your air and gives you personalized recommendations to help you stay safe and healthy.