Picture a life-sized igloo built entirely from milk crates crafted by the hands of four year olds. A place for them to imagine, design and engineer. Places like this are helping childcare centres facilitate the building of a new sustainable world.
Sustainability initiatives are being adopted by early childhood education and care services all around the country. They are influencing children, educators, parents and the wider community to reduce waste; save water, energy and money; and build an instinctive connection to their local natural world.
In Victoria, the ResourceSmart Education Awards is the State’s largest sustainability awards program for education services, recognising a huge range of inspiring activities for the Victorian community. Early childhood services are new to the awards, delivered by Sustainability Victoria. Lorne Kindergarten is this year’s winner, for their junior earthlings sustainability and science project.
Stan Krpan, CEO of Sustainability Victoria said, “The ResourceSmart program encourages all students and education centres to get involved and use their creativity to implement sustainable and practical initiatives. Each year we see more students and educators taking part in the program, and coming up with new ways of reducing, reusing, recycling and rethinking in the areas of waste, water, energy and biodiversity through truly innovative initiatives”.
Gowrie Victoria is one of many services leading the way. At their Dockland centre, a group of children have named themselves the ‘rubbish detectives’ after spending time on the Yarra River with the river keeper. They monitor and document the waste produced by the centre and help to minimise it. All signs are made with recycled materials and parents bring items to reuse in creative projects. They avoid purchasing new materials for play using, for example, using twigs instead of pipe cleaners for craft.
In Carlton, Gowrie children have created an enterprise selling worm wee fertiliser and have established kitchen gardens. Children chop up parsley to add to their lunch and compost all the remains. The kinder teacher, Lisa Frankland, grew up in the bush. This experience encouraged her to set up a bush kinder program that the children and staff love. “Bush kinder helps the children see first-hand the human impact on nature. They notice water bugs and animals see the rubbish in the creek. It forms their understanding and behaviour towards the environment. It has also boosted resilience, risk taking and enriched our understanding of the history of the area. We all find it empowering.”
At Moreland Community Child Care Centres a group of parents established a sustainability committee and have since swapped their energy provider to PowerShop to obtain 100% renewable energy. They are putting up solar panels, undertaking a lighting retrofit and introducing clearly colour coded waste bins to minimise landfill. They grow vegetables and make compost in the neighbouring community garden. Corinne Beinart, a parent and educator at the centre said, “Children are the driving force! They contribute to our sustainable choices, such as caring for chickens and using the eggs in cooking activities. We deeply value the community effort that drives sustainable change. We can’t do without it.”
Coburg children’s centre has a nappy change system with no disposable products. Michelle Hocking the program manager said “We use cloth nappies and if required reusable kitchen gloves that can be washed. Cost is not our triple bottom line, although we do save money not buying disposables. We are doing this for the sustainable aspects. It is part of our philosophy to minimise waste and the use of chemicals“.
Tracy Young from Swinburne University is an early childhood teacher and advocate for sustainable education with Early Childhood Australia. “These centres are examples of best practice for the profession. They are leading the way in how sustainable education can be achieved in the early years”.
Care for children involves caring for the world the child will inherit. The best thing about taking on these initiatives is that they all have co-benefits for individuals and communities, including increased physical activity, healthy relationships with food and animals, experimenting with innovation and new technology and better mental health. Best of all it creates a safe and sustaining future.
For educators or parents looking to take on sustainable activities a few good places to start include:
- Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI) program
- Environmental Education in Early Childhood Victoria
- Cool Australia – Early Childhood
- NSW Early Childhood Environmental Education Network
For information about embedding sustainability in your early years centre, please contact CERES Education Early Years Coordinator Deanne Jones firstname.lastname@example.org.