by Marsha Rakestraw

Jack Frost nipping at our noses. Silver bells ringing. Chestnuts roasting.

Credit cards groaning. Retailers giggling with glee.

It must be the holiday season again.

Every year many North Americans shop until they drop in order to shower all their friends and family with material goodwill that those loved ones will likely then stuff in a closet or spend the first half of the new year standing in lines to return for something they really want.

The National Retail Federation estimates (i.e., really hopes, with fingers and toes crossed and sugar on top) that for 2018 the average US citizen will spend more than $1,007 on holiday-related shopping (presents, food, decorations, and bargains not to be missed).

Fortunately, more North Americans each year are catching on and giddily turning away from the lemming-like rush toward the precipice of consumer destruction.

As humane educators, any time of year is a great time to analyze issues surrounding consumerism, but the uber-consumptive holiday season can make such explorations more meaningful.

Here are 10 activities that help us consider the impacts of our consumer choices.

1. Behind the Scenes
Participants explore the hidden lives of their everyday stuff by investigating how ordinary products come into existence & who/what has been helped or harmed in the creation & distribution of that product.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 45 minutes to several weeks

2. Clothing Line-Up
We make choices every day about what we wear, but how often do we pay attention to the impact of our clothing choices on others? Students explore more and less harmful clothing options from the perspectives of the animals, other people, and the environment.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 60 minutes

3. I’ve Been Branded!
This icebreaker activity helps students gain a sense of how surrounded they may be by brands and products by using Wordle.
Recommended for grades 6-12.
Time: 45 minutes

4. Leave Only Footprints
Everyone has an ecological footprint. Participants use paper footprints to simulate the impact of their choices on the earth. Extension activities allow students to explore their ecological footprints and what choices can be made to reduce them.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 45 minutes

5. Trash Investigators
What’s in our trash that doesn’t need to be there? Participants investigate a trash source and analyze which items can be removed from the waste stream.
Recommended for grades 4-8.
Time: 30 minutes

6. True Price
Students will explore the positive and negative impacts of our product choices on themselves, other people, animals, and the earth.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 20-60 minutes, or several days

7. Whale’s Stomach
Students learn about the impact of our “throwaway society” by exploring all the different kinds of trash found in a whale’s stomach.
Recommended for grades 3-8.
Time: 15-45 minutes

8. What Price Beauty?
This activity encourages students to explore and think critically about the impacts of the ingredients in the personal care products that they use on themselves, other people, animals and the environment, as well as how branding and marketing play into our choices.
Recommended for grades 8 and up.
Time: A few days to several weeks

9. Where in the World?
Students “shop” for T-shirts to help them make the connection between what they wear and the conditions under which it’s made.
Recommended for grades 9 and up.
Time: At least two days

10. Who Made My Clothes?
Students will investigate the “birth place” of their clothes, learn about how those clothes are connected to the oppression and exploitation of children and women, and consider positive solutions.
Recommended for grades 6-12.
Time: 2-3 60-minute classes, and longer for solutions projects

For additional resources to help your students think about making choices that do more good and less harm, check out our curated Ethical Consumerism Pinterest board.


Be sure to forward this to at least ONE person who would benefit from these resources.

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Photo by frankie cordoba on Unsplash