Encouraging children (and adults) to put down their game controllers, tablets and hand held devises and get outdoors and experience the natural world; creating more natural play spaces for children in schools, early childhood settings and communities are all important and valuable. However, we need to go beyond this. Our recent summers and winters of extreme weather have been a stark reminder that the climate is changing and we will increasingly be faced with long very hot summers.
We need to take children beyond nature play. Learning in, about and with nature involves far more than using natural materials in our play space designs.
In order to respect and love the earth we need to understand it. Children need to connect with the natural environment to understand and value their role as caretakers.
However, this cannot be separate or independent of other key elements in sustainability
Gardening and nature play are important, they are necessary but not enough.
We need to go beyond these and recognise that Education for Sustainability is also about children’s agency, their right to participate in decision making and be involved in taking action on matters that affect them. This involves building children’s self-confidence, resilience, optimism and problem solving skills so they can manage in a changing world. It also calls for educators to acknowledge that young children have an understanding and perspective of the world that is valid and thoughtful and often very wise. Children can use their unique knowledge and perspective to contribute ideas and strategies for managing problems such as waste reduction, being water wise, energy saving, reducing the use of harmful chemicals and help us build a more sustainable community. We are currently operating at 150% of the earth’s capacity and our current growth model is driving us to 300%.
What is education for sustainability?
The decade 2005 to 2014 was declared as the decade of Education for Sustainable Development by the United Nations. As we move on Education for Sustainability is a key to refocusing the way we live and work towards a lifestyle that fosters respect for the earth. Incorporating the principles, practices and values of sustainability into education beginning in the early years is essential to achieving a sustainable society. If, however, you are only looking at sustainability and giving it attention because of National Quality Area 3.3 then you are probably doing it for the wrong reasons.
Education for Sustainability, living sustainably and sustainable practices and values are in all 7 quality areas. Before you can embed sustainability, before you can even teach sustainability you must first learn it and live it. You must discover what sustainability means to you and to your service before you can move forward. Developing a service philosophy that incorporates sustainable practices is a key step in bringing together the educators, staff and families in your service who are passionate about living more sustainably.
These people and your policy on sustainability will be the key drivers and motivators for everyone learning about how to live more sustainably and to start living this both at the service and at home. Sustainability is linked to your philosophy. It is not a policy you can take from somewhere else. It is a unique document for your service that will evolve and grow over time.
Start by asking some questions like: what does living sustainably mean to you? What does it mean for your family? Why do you think it is important for us to live more sustainably? What does this mean for your children? You may ask older children what they understand about sustainable living? Asking families and staff to respond to these questions and gathering the answers will help you build a picture of what is important for your service.