22nd November 2022 Sustainability in the Early Years Early Years Foundation Stage All Posts

Education for Sustainable Development – Economics

This is a 4 part blog series on sustainable development. See part 1 here, part 3 here and part 4 here.

Economics and sustainability – how do they work together?

Economics and Early Years education are not two concepts one would automatically put together. In fact, the idea of teaching economics to 5-year-olds and under would seem like a joke to some. However, the basic concept of economics is not relentless mathematics on a chalkboard for only the few to understand. A healthy and sustainable economy is part of a country’s well being, it is the science of scarcity and distributions of resources.

The Three Pillars of Sustainability

In 1947, when India gained its independence and Gandhi was being interviewed about the standard of living observed ” It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve its prosperity, how many planets will a country like India require?” 

When we reflect on this concept, we begin to understand the true nature of consumption and should make sure we are being mindful and taking responsibility for the amount we consume. When we take responsibility and action for our personal consumption, we are then able to work as a collective, a community, to create innovative ways to develop a sustainable economy. 

In 2010, Pramling Samuelsson and Kaga suggested that a curriculum including the education of sustainability must adopt the 5 ‘R’s’ 

  • Reduce 
  • Recycle 
  • Reuse
  • Repair
  • Redistribution 

When simplifying sustainable economics to the bare bones of consumption and the 5 Rs it suddenly becomes a much more manageable context in which we, as early practitioners can develop creatively.  

Entrepreneurial activities are a great way to introduce the concept of raising money. You can either raise money for the nursery to buy a resource the children have chosen, or you can raise money for those less fortunate.  

For this second one I like the children to select from an option of charities, so it is their project from the start. Last year the children decided they wanted to raise money for a guide dog charity. This conversation had been stimulated by a child seeing a person with a guide dog which evolved into another child explaining a family member had one. The children decided they wanted to make dog biscuits to sell to the local community. They made the dog biscuits themselves, designed and put up a stall just outside the nursery, they became quite the entrepreneurs and raised enough money to support one guide dog’s training. A simple way to donate money to a charity is online with a one-off payment, once putting the cash the children have raised into the nursery account. Some charities will even send a thank you note to the class. 

Another way in which the class learnt about sustainable economics was by visiting and learning about charity shops. By introducing them to charity shops they start to develop the idea of thrift  and unwanted items getting a second life. This concept was introduced in January to start the year with a sustainable mindset particularly after all the Christmas hype for ‘new’ and ‘more’ had settled down. The children decided they wanted to donate some of their clothes, books, and toys which they no longer needed.


The concept of fair trade was introduced to the children by making a community scavenger hunt. Could they find the logo at home, the nursery or in the shop? Once we had found the logo, we started to explore what the logo meant. Not only did this bring up the conversation about fairness and how our reading skills can help us find important information; it also meant we could learn about:

  • other countries and cultures
  • explore why these countries were great for growing bananas or chocolate, why can’t they grow in the UK?
  • making choices as a conscious consumer. Making sure that you choose products which look after its workers

All these basic daily skills which will follow them into their daily life and influence their family/ community around them.  With organisations such as these you can usually arrange to have a visitor to come and speak to the children and families. 

We had a visitor from our local food bank, due to the current financial climate it became clear that more and more families are using this service. Our nursery is in a unique placement between two estates, one very affluent, the other being one of the poorest estates in Essex. This strength of having a multicultural class system in our nursery means the children can share a wide range of first-hand experiences. Whether it is that they went to Dubai for the weekend, or it was the first time on a bus out of the area or they visited a foodbank. Both should be acknowledged and celebrated since they are both part of our community and that child’s world and ours.  

The children’s picture book ‘No-money day’ is a great way to introduce the topic and discuss how we can help support our community. This week a food bank donation box was left out for  those that could donate something, this included pictures the children had made to decorate the food bank. By including their work as a donation meant that every child was able to provide something.  It also meant the children who would be visiting the food bank had something exciting to look forward to on their next visit. 

Sustainable economics is a wide range topic which gives practitioners the opportunity to teach parts of the curriculum through first hand experiences such as:

  • Developing their sense of responsibility and membership of a community 
  • Be able to express a point of view
  • Begin to make sense of their own life story and family history 
  • Developing positive attitudes about differences between people
  • Know that there are different countries in the world and talk about the difference they have experienced or seen in photos. 

(Development matters. 2021)

Educating children in these matters is not eradicating the adult conversation on ‘how’ or ‘why’ there are still children who need food banks, or children in other parts of the world who do not get an education because they must work to support their families. We, as adults, know these are areas which need to be resolved, which is why they are part of the Global Sustainable Goals. However, we would be doing our future citizens a disservice by pretending these problems do not exist. By creating an environment for Sustained shared critical thinking, we are providing ideas and problems for the children to evaluate and resolve at their level. Creating conscious consumers who consider their peers and environment. 

In the meantime, why not check out these 10 Activities That Teach Your Children About Sustainability.


Books to sustainable economics topic that are popular with the children:

  • It’s a No-money day by Kate Milner
  • king Leonard’s teddy by Phoebe Swan
  • Don’t Throw That Away!: A Lift-The-Flap Book about Recycling and Reusing (Little Green books) by Lara Bergen
  • The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story about Recycling (Little Green Books) by Alison Inches 
  • Don’t Waste Your Food (Good to Be Green) by Deborah Chancellor
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About the Author

Jessica Holme is an Early Years Teacher at Newlands Spring Nursery.