Education for Sustainable Development – Social
Social Sustainability in the Early Years
Social sustainability should come quite naturally to most early years’ practitioners. Developing future citizens of tomorrow is normally one of the reasons we enter the profession. It is part of our curriculum. We want our children to be happy, kind, and reflective learners who ‘recognise and respect the commonality in human diversity.’ (Siraj-Blatchford and Brock. 2017)
Currently, it is becoming even easier to recognise and celebrate this using books and resources that are now available to us. Including using members of the community, it is a rich and usually free resource which, when used correctly can have a dramatic impact on the children’s learning. For example, when sharing the story ‘Hair Love’ with the children there is a certain section of the book which shows a range of products and combs used to make a special hair style.
Now, I could have given the children my explanation and left it at that, but I am not a person of colour, and my explanation would not have brought the story to life. By reaching out and using the children’s local community I was able to have visitors with the appropriate natural hair to come in and either read the story to the children or explain their hair care process. A particularly memorable one for the children is when a dancer called Zinzile Tshuma came in to talk about the process she must go through to change her hairstyles for different roles and performances. She was able to show them the actual products that would have to be used to create the different hairstyles in the story.
One of Montessori’s famous quotes establishes the importance of educators in relation to social sustainability: ‘Advertising war is the work of the politicians; establishing peace is the work of the educator.’ In other words, we are the facilitators of open social thinking.
Let us start by analysing the basic anatomy of social sustainability and build a creative curriculum which supports its development within our children. Freedom, social justice, identity, equality, and empowerment; the core of social sustainability. The nature of an early year’s curriculum and pedagogy of social sustainability comes naturally to EYFS practitioners. We want to have a positive influence on our children making them conscientious, courteous, and caring citizens today as well as tomorrow.
Local walks are a great way to support this and access the local community through services such as the library, local shops and awareness of support networks like doctors or care homes to bring a ‘3D element’ to the children’s concept of community adding to their cultural capital. Increase interactivity with the local community as the children take photos of their favourite part of the community or borrow local council’s children’s sized litter pickers. We are part of a school and have access to the yoga lessons in the spring term where the children learn basic poses and learn about breathing techniques and mindfulness.
Teaching social-cultural sustainability is about introducing and developing appreciation of different cultures, languages of other cultures and developing a respect, awareness and understanding that there is more than one way to live. Which, I would argue, as human nature is naturally egocentric, education is about learning how much there is to learn and experience in this world rather than solidifying what you already believe is true.
We are fortunately in a culturally diverse area so through simple practises such as ‘show and tell’, using the online journals like’ Tapestry’, families are able to upload photos and videos of any special events or celebrations and we can screen them for the children too. The children get a spotlight moment to take pride and ‘show off’ what makes them unique and deepening friendships as the children learn about each other holistically. This asset and first-hand experience used to be for the few fortunate or wealthy. It developed for us through television presenters such as David and Michael Palin exploring amazing places, peoples and their lives and bringing it into our homes. To this day I watch their programs and listen to their books of real-life adventure but within the concept of social sustainability we need to further and extend the message to our children with varied presenters and approaches, establishing it is not just older, white men who get to have these first-hand experiences and adventures plus it is a waste of an extremely rich resource if we do not use and include the community around us in such adventures.
Using tools like Tapestry and making sure we have close relationships with our parents, nurseries can access a range of information about a child, about a culture, religion and language. The local library can provide resources such as bilingual books so that classical stories such as ‘The Rainbow Fish’ or ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ can be shared in both languages. I am not able to read or speak Thai but by having the bilingual books in the classroom a member of the nursery community could read to the children in Thai and in English. Sharing information with the children with some Thai songs, cooking, and photos. Creating this first-hand experience meant that the children were able to ask questions, explore the culture actively rather than passively through a video. Seeing the similarities as well as celebrating the differences.
To be happy and to develop a respect for others, one also needs to develop a respect for oneself and being happy. Sue Graves books are a great tool for exploring emotions and behaviours; making room for discussions and exploring hypothetical scenarios and solutions which the children can then apply to their play. Social sustainability is about connectedness and unity within our global community, and with technology as our agent in this curiously diverse world. It is our responsibility as practitioners to capitalise on the diversity within our classrooms and celebrate equality.
In the meantime, why not check out these 10 Activities That Teach Your Children About Sustainability.
- early-years-sustainability-resource.pdf (ncfe.org.uk)
- Maria Montessori’s Contribution to Peace Education (columbia.edu)
- EYFS Best Practice – All about… Early Childhood Education for Sustainability | Nursery World
- Hair Love by Matthew Cherry
- Behaviour Matters series by Sue Graves
- Super Duper you by Sophy Henn