Being a sustainable and eco friendly setting has always been a top priority for us as practitioners and something we’ve always made a fundamental part of our pedagogy as we believe we are raising the next generation of children and so if we can instil a mindful and considerate mindset in regards to the environment with our children in their earliest experiences, then we are already making a positive impact on the world in which these children will grow up in.
We begin supporting children in being environmentally aware from as soon as it’s developmentally appropriate and the children’s level of understanding allows them to grasp the concept.
Some may think that this is perhaps too young to provide children with information of this kind and encourage a sense of environmental responsibility but by incorporating knowledge on such an important topic through provision and play; our children enables our children to process and understand more complex topics and concepts and these habits and new knowledge then become the norm and part of their every day life.
This is why we begin to introduce sustainability and being aware of the environment etc by first adding simple resources and activities to our provision for the children to explore and develop and extend their own knowledge, through sorting and categorising with different materials, using recyclable materials to build and construct and noticing the differences between the properties not only provides children with open-ended play resources and opportunities but also allows them to begin to understand the concept of what materials are recyclable and can be re-used and re-made, just as using them for their own constructions allows them to witness and experience first-hand how easily these materials can be manipulated and changed, thus cementing their knowledge and understanding of recycling and what it really means to re-use these recyclable materials – a complex concept in theory, but when simplified and made fun, a developmentally appropriate way of supporting children to gage this early awareness of not only materials and properties, but the whole process of recycling simultaneously.
From this early exploration and developing understanding of properties and materials, children quickly begin to confidently notice and identify different materials and properties in their playroom and wider environments, commenting and making comparisons in their play as their share their knowledge and discuss their findings together.
Making these small adjustments and additions to play and provision widens and develops the children’s knowledge and understanding more succinctly than you’d first think and so the introduction of the children’s own recycling bin into the kitchen became a natural progression and an extension of the children’s learning and knowledge of recycling; within days (and they continue to do so!) the children were identifying items they were using or noticing materials being used by adults and directing where these materials should go and/or placing these in the corresponding bins themselves. This has become a wonderful and hands-on learning experience for the children and an effortless part of our daily routine as they confidently and independently carry out this task themselves at various points during the day.
As practitioners, we have spent years tirelessly over-hauling, critically reflecting on and sorting our resources to ensure we use very limited, if any, single use plastic items, instead scouring charity shops, auctions, and Facebook Marketplace to find second-hand, antique, interesting and multi-purpose resources to enrich the children’s play and learning experiences.
Overhauling and rotating toys is something the children are actively involved in and again is another simple way to introduce the concept of waste, not throwing away toys and the benefits of giving to others, and so the children help us sort through their toys and decide which ones they no longer play with and would like to give to other children via charity shops and community hubs; which not only provides them with another valuable lesson on recycling but also a lesson on humanity and giving to others.
Similarly, we cement this learning with trips to our local refuse centre where the children witness the process of sorting and categorising the waste/refuse, speak to the refuse workers who tell tall tales of the things that have been created from another person’s ‘rubbish’ and the endless possibilities that lay within each section of the centre, it’s one of their favourite outings and truly brings their understanding of recycling and sustainability to life.
Similarly, we aren’t just heavily focused on recyclying and re-using, as a setting we are keen foragers (more on this in our next blog!) and the children are incredibly knowledgeable on the wild berries, flowers, fruits and vegetables that grow wild in our local area, and what we can turn them into back at base! Not only a sustainable way to find ingredients and prepare meals, but the most incredible way to explore new tastes, dishes and provide an even more varied diet.
During our beach school sessions, through summer and winter the children quickly developed an understanding, a respect and an awareness of the coastline, and as they got older they started to notice more details of the environment each time we visited, most notably, the litter that was regularly washed up on our local beaches – and so as with everything we introduce and support the children with, taking their lead and interest, answering their questions and concerns, we began to delve deeper into the idea of litter, and how it’s not only a bad thing for our streets and wider environment, but it also has a catastrophic impact on our seas, and subsequently, our sealife.
The children were rightfully concerned by this and volunteered to pick up the litter they discovered washed up, and this has again quickly become part of their average beach school routine; and we are so proud of how environmentally aware and responsible they are, even when out in the natural world.
Following their lead with this, we now regularly organise beach cleans in our local area and do our bit to keep our local beaches clean and litter free.
Not only does introducing these concepts so young support a deeper knowledge and understanding for the children from the outset, but it also ingrains fundamental habits in the early years, which grow and develop with the children into later childhood, meaning that the foundations have already been set for them to regularly put into practice the small acts, behaviours and knowledge they have learned with us and take this with them out into the world, which in the long-term has a positive impact on our planet and local environment and the world these children live in, as they join society knowledgeable, considerate and environmentally aware young people.