How to be More Sustainable in your Nursery Setting
Teaching children how to be sustainable is important now more than ever as we face 1 million animal and plant species threatened with extinction and greenhouse gas emissions set to hit new record levels in 2023. The children in your care are the next citizens and they are currently growing up in an environment of confusion where the issues of sustainability are not properly understood.
It’s essential that we, as human beings, leave our world fit for future generations to enjoy a healthy life. Therefore, when it comes to the early years, sustainability should be embedded into every element of a setting’s environment, to help make this happen.
Supporting children’s understanding of sustainability
It is now crucial that children are aware of how their actions have an impact on the environment. Research shows that fundamental values and attitudes are formed during the early years of a child’s life, so it’s important to lay the foundations now. Educating children on sustainability now can create lifelong habits that will impact future generations.
Teaching children about sustainability encourages them to make sense of the world around them. Giving children the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature can have a positive impact by allowing them to learn about the importance of trees, plants and wildlife, making sustainability a central part of children’s thinking.
Karen Hutchinson, Manager of Go Outdoors discusses how they incorporate elements from Forest Schooling, Montessori, Reggio, and The Curiosity Approach in the setting. This approach champions independence, mindfulness and sustainability through unstructured and open-ended play, with a unique setting giving children space and freedom to learn in their natural outdoor environment.
We have a number of free educational activity guides to help encourage children to learn more about nature and the environment:
- Earth Day Early Years Activity Guide
- National Insect Week
- World Bee Day Early Years Activity Guide
- Gardening Early Years Activity Guide
- Birdwatching Early Years Activity Guide
Implementing Responsible Learning
It is our role as educators to help embed environmentally responsible learning and look at developing engaging play opportunities that reflect children’s interests and extend their thinking.
Cheryl Hadland recommends that every time you plan an activity, you ask yourself: “How sustainable is this?” This will help provide a foundation on which to instigate environmental change in your setting.
For instance, if you are using one-use glue sticks, you could buy the Nexus ones – where you can replace the inserts with new glue instead. And if you are using large plastic bottles of cleaning liquids, you could use the Bio-D products that you can dilute on-site and return the bottles. You could also use more plant-based products for meals – reducing meat and dairy consumption.
Most importantly, every activity should be reflected upon.
We should implement the eco-sustainable mindset of ‘could this be done for the next 50 years and not damage the planet?’ If not, it would be best to rethink and swap it for something else.
Supporting sustainability shouldn’t feel like a chore – it’s all about centring on what interests already lie within your setting. It should be something that’s role-modelled.
Ultimately, the decisions early years professionals make on a daily basis, from equipment procurement to on-site waste segregation, all add up to a greater cause of creating a space which not only thrives and supports children and staff now but tomorrow, and every day after that.
The NCFE have created this great resource to support practitioners and parents to engage with sustainable development goals learning more about our responsibilities to each other and the world we live in.
Embedding a sustainable approach in your setting
- Reuse, reduce and importantly recycle
Involve children in recycling by introducing a recycling bin at mealtimes. Encourage the children to discuss the properties of the containers/packaging of the ingredients used and decide together whether or not they believe it’s recyclable, and sort into the correct bin accordingly.
Don’t throw away materials that are suitable for play, many resources such as cardboard tubes, boxes and milk cartons can be reused to enhance play.
Reduce the use of ‘single-use’ resources in your provision. Why not scoure charity shops and our local antique shops in order to find second-hand, interesting and multi-purpose resources.
- Make use of the great outdoors
Using your outdoor area for gardening can help children to become familiar with a wide variety of foods through growing, handling fruit and vegetables, smelling, tasting, role play and investigating as well as songs, rhymes and stories.
Growing fruit and vegetables also teaches a valuable lesson about the work it takes to produce food and the importance of reducing food waste. As we look toward a more sustainable future, gardening can be a valuable learning tool for those in the early years.
Gardening Activity Guide
- Reduce your paper use
During the cost of living crisis, it is essential to consider the excess materials that you are using in your setting such as paper, ink and energy used to print. It is sustainable and cost-effective to be as paperless as possible to avoid having the printer on all the time. Make sure your printer is turned off when not in use. You can encourage less paper waste by using nursery management software like Connect Childcare and doing as much sharing as you can online through parent collaboration platforms like ParentZone.