Sustainability in childcare is becoming an ever increasingly important part of the curriculum and every effort should be made to incorporate sustainability into all childcare settings.
Sustainability is educating people about the environment, how systems operate and what we need from the natural world to ensure our survival.
What Is Sustainability for Children?
Children can be easily engaged by introducing them to the natural environment with activities such as gardening, composting and cultivating worm farms but this education can be enhanced by educators in a number of ways including:
Promoting discussions about sustainability by using visible evidence such as overflowing rubbish bins and left over food to spark discussion.
Promoting recycling by involving children in a recycling program or getting them to devise strategies to increase recycling activity.
Older children can be further stimulated by discussions surrounding drought, air quality, weather reports and pollution. Interests can be further stimulated by keeping visual charts of reported or recorded data.
Appoint younger children to be waste watchers – make them responsible for watching for lights being left on or taps dripping.
What Is Sustainability For Educators?
Educators have a vital role to play in not only delivering the sustainability message but modelling it wherever possible. This behaviour can be encouraged by:
Implementing sustainability policies and practices
Demonstrating your commitment to sustainability by conducting an environmental audit focusing on such areas as biodiversity, resource usage, water management and purchasing.
Place sustainability messages in prominent places that can be easily seen by educators and parents alike. Include helpful information about local environmental issues, including such things as wildlife, bin colours and recycling systems.
Make sustainability part of your regular communications, either by incorporating a sustainability into your regular newsletter or by creating a dedicated sustainability newsletter.
Produce an environmental calendar.
Introduce a worm farm to the centre and encourage children to follow a system that makes use of food scraps in the worm farm or alternately by composting.
Encouraging educators to role model sustainability practices and explain why and how taking certain actions like turning off lights when not in use has a positive impact.
Reduce the use of plastic.
Purchase eco-friendly equipment paying particular attention to packaging.
Make sustainability a permanent item in staff meeting agendas.
Purchase educational material that has environmental content.
The important thing to remember that sustainability cannot be a fad, rather it should be embedded into the activities of the childcare centre.
15 Sustainability Activities for Childcare
One of the best ways to teach the concepts of sustainability is to allow children to experience practical activities that reinforce the core principles of sustainability – to understand the impact that we have on the earth and how our actions impact future generations.
The list below is a list of starting activities that will help introduce children to the concepts of sustainability and caring for the environment. Most of these make great ideas for sustainability activities for toddlers and older children.
Introduce the concept of recycling. The earlier children learn the habits of recycling, the more likely they are to have ingrained recycling behaviour. Recycling can start by having designated bins for recyclable materials, trash and food scraps. The bins can be colour coded.
Make gardening part of the daily and weekly routine. You can engage children by building hype around gardening. The whole gardening process can be taught starting with indoor seed planting and culminating with harvesting edible fruits and vegetables to make a group meal.
Use recyclable items for craft activities. Common everyday materials ranging from cereal boxes, toilet rolls and aluminum cans can be used for a range of recycling ideas in childcare that can stimulate the imagination and keep children engaged for hours.
Make art supplies using materials like food dyes, dish soap and even milk – this teaches children to make use of non-toxic bio organic materials to create their art.
Demonstrate how to make musical instruments like maracas, shakers and drums using easily accessible and recyclable material.
Demonstrate how to collect and use rainwater by setting up collection receptacles and encouraging children to water outdoor plants.
Make age appropriate books about the earth available and read them aloud at story time.
Install a worm farm and encourage the recycling of organic food matter while teaching the value of worms and the interconnectedness of all living things.
Build a compost bottle using a clear plastic soft drink bottle with the top cut off and label removed. Add layers of compostable material and keep moist. Children can then observe the changes that occur in organic material as the composting material takes place.
Teach children how to make their own paper using recycled paper scraps.
Conduct an air pollution science experiment. Simply use a piece of white or clear plastic, some vaseline (petroleum jelly),some duct tape, a brick or similar weighty object and some blank white paper. Choose an outdoor location with good air circulation. Coat the piece of plastic with the petroleum jelly and then secure it to the brick with the duct tape. Allow to sit for at least twenty four hours and then review the amount of pollution collected.
Build a mini greenhouse using some plastic cups. Here’s how. You will need two plastic cups, some soil 4-5 seeds, a spray bottle and a push pin. Punch drainage holes with a push pin in the bottom of a plastic cup then fill close to the top with soil. Put 3-5 seeds in the cup, then water the seeds using a spray bottle. Cover the cup with a clear plastic cup to lock in moisture and warmth. Your mini greenhouse is built. Place it in a place that will get light and watch those seeds sprout.
Encourage outside play. There is no better way to create an affinity with the earth than to encourage a love of the outdoors and playing outside is a great way to engender a love of the outdoors and sustainable outdoor fun.
Encourage rubbish collection. Instigate a green walk to clean up the area. Before you do have a discussion about the negative impacts of rubbish being left around. Make sure that all children are properly attired with gloves and have a collection bag.
Encourage tree planting by organising a tree planting excursion or simply planting one tree in a designated space. Kids love planting trees and the whole process creates a feeling of connectedness with nature.
Sustainable classroom activities and sustainable outdoor activities for toddlers make a wonderful way to educate children about the environment and how they relate to it. Teaching sustainability doesn’t just happen – it requires careful planning and a commitment to making it happening. Adopting sustainability practices in childcare as part of the regular childcare routine helps to not only model but to embed sustainable practices in children from a very young age.