There are a myriad of considerations when searching for the right childcare centre for your little one; friendliness & professionalism of the staff, facilities, meals offered, structure and routine, learning opportunities. But what about the centre’s commitment to the environment and how it teaches that to our children? We spoke to Julie Davis, Associate Professor, School of Early Childhood at QUT to find out why childcare centres need to be environmentally friendly and what Brisbane parents can look for in a quality centre…
What is Early Childhood Education for Sustainability (ECEfS)?
The early years have been recognized as a “natural starting point” for education for sustainability. ECEfS is a newly emerging area and Australian educators, teacher educators, and researchers are leaders in this field. Indeed, there is a growing list of exemplary kindergartens, child care centres, preschools, and preps across the country engaged in EfS focusing on a range of topics that include, for example, water education, reducing energy use, recycling, growing gardens, and cleaning up parks and creeks. Some centres focus more on the social dimensions of sustainability – strengthening Indigenous communities, working with the elderly, supporting the unemployed, fostering gender equality in their communities, being more socially inclusive. There is mounting evidence that early lessons in sustainability help reshape adult sustainability actions in homes, schools and communities.
A few people think that it is inappropriate to burden young children with sustainability-related issues. I agree; indeed, I believe it is unethical to expose children to ‘doom and gloom’ scenarios about the shabby state of our world. We should not be turning children into ‘worriers’ or ‘warriors’. The EfS promoted in Australia is a form of positive education, where young children have meaningful interactions with and in the natural world and are supported as thinkers and problem-solvers learning a ‘make a difference’ in their everyday contexts.
Does YOUR child’s early learning centre practice Education for Sustainability?
What to look for:
- It provides a stimulating, natural, outdoor environment – wildlife habitats for native plants and animals, small animals such as chooks, frogs, a worm farm, learnscapes with bush tucker, kitchen gardens, herb and flower gardens.
- It cares about the centre’s use of resources – has water tanks, solar panels, a recycling program. Resource conservation is practiced daily in all parts of the service – office, lunchroom, outdoors, classrooms, and through its procurement practices and cleaning products/processes.
But, first and foremost, a centre should (or begin to work towards):
- Embed and promote sustainability through a whole-of-centre approach and philosophy. Sustainability is ‘written into’ its prospectus. Its sustainability credentials are part of its culture, and should be on show and celebrated.
- Embed sustainability into children’s everyday play and learning; it’s not an add-on. Educators’ should work with the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the National Quality Standards (NQS) to support sustainability learning. In particular, the EYLF encourages learning where ‘children are connected with and contribute to their world’ (Outcome 2) while the NQS asks that ‘sustainable practices are embedded in service operations’ (Element 3.3.1) and that children are supported to become environmentally responsible and show respect for the environment (Element 3.3.2).
- Most importantly, ECEfS educates children to be active agents for sustainable change, for example, through play and learning projects that encourage them as critical and creative thinkers and where they take their first steps as active citizens for sustainability. In such projects, children are invited to come up with ways to make changes to water and energy use in their centre – and then to put these ideas into practice! They might contribute to the design and maintenance of centre and community gardens – learning all the time as they play and learn!
- The wider community (parents, centre neighbours, local businesses, environmental organisations, local council) contributes to the centre’s sustainability activities. Seek to create an intergenerational community that learns together to transition to more healthy and sustainable ways of living.
Want to reinforce sustainability with your children at home and beyond?
- Make use of public outdoor spaces such as parks, reserves, and botanical gardens – go for walks, rides, and camping to foster a love of nature.
- Try gardening at home. Illustrate the food cycle in its entirety – planting seeds, growing the vegies, cooking and eating the produce, then composting.
- Be a sustainability model yourself! Join the ‘handmade’ revolution. Ride a bike. Utilise places like Reverse Garbage for free/cheap, recycled materials. Get an electric bike to replace some of your car trips.
- Let your children see YOU being an active citizen for sustainability – let’s practice what we preach! Go to a rally for the environment. Support environmental and social justice campaigns.
Remember: Good planets are hard to find!
About the writer:
Julie Davis is Associate Professor, School of Early Childhood, at the Queensland University of Technology who specializes in education for sustainability and health promotion education in the early years. She is editor of the international early childhood textbook Young Children and the Environment: Early Education for Sustainability, published by Cambridge University Press, now in its 2nd edition.
This article was published in Issue 12 of our print magazine, October/November 2015.