Sustainability and Environmental Responsibility in The Early Years
Sustainability and a sense of environmental responsibility is something that has always been important for us as individuals, and so it is only right and felt natural to make this awareness part of our pedagogy and curriculum and support our children in recognising the way in which they could be more environmentally aware and introduce small actions that would make a huge impact on our planet for the long term.
When it’s developmentally appropriate for each cohort of children (normally around 2 years+) we begin to introduce simple sorting and categorising activities involving properties/materials, and so sorting plastics, tins, cardboard and paper items and discussing which items can be recycled and delving deeper into what the concept of what ‘recycling’ actually means and how by recycling items we can make new things, which is a much more positive
We then begin to explore these different types of properties in other waysimpact on our environment.
We then begin to explore these different types of properties in other ways; creating a tuff spot of recyclable materials for the children to explore as loose parts and build games/narratives around, junk modeling opportunities to demonstrate simply how these materials can be manipulated and combined to make new ways to play, as well as adding vehicles and blocks for the children to incorporate these materials into their small world and imaginative play.
It’s amazing to see how quickly the children pick up on differentiating between properties and materials and how they begin to notice these in their play and everyday life as they frequently comment on what properties are in the playroom, and discuss whether they think it’s recyclable.
Once the understanding of properties and the concept of recycling was understood, we introduced a Recycling Bin
Once the understanding of properties and the concept of recycling was understood, we introduced a Recycling Bin to the kitchen alongside our waste bin, and at mealtimes the children 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, this is a wonderful hands-on experience that has become part of our daily routine and the children often make these decisions independently and sort and categorise any ‘rubbish’ without any input from us!
As a setting, we are very conscious of waste and copious amounts of plastic and ‘single-use’ resources in our provision and have worked tirelessly over the years to overhaul our resources and spend hours scouring charity shops and our local antique shops in order to find second-hand, interesting and multi-purpose resources.
Similarly, we involve the children in sorting through toys that don’t get played with anymore, and together they make a decision which toys they’d like to give away to charity shops or to our local community hubs, so that other children get to enjoy them and the toys don’t end up as waste.
We regularly take the children with us on trips to the refuse center and the children are fascinated by the entire process! We’ve also been lucky enough to chat to the workers on-site and they’ve regaled us with stories of how they rescued an ironing board and later turned it into a bicycle, which absolutely enthralled the children and really bought their knowledge and experience of recycling to life.
It’s not just about recycling.
For us, it’s not just about recycling. We are very proud ‘foragers’ on our countless outdoor adventures and we have been lucky enough to share our knowledge with the children of which plants/berries/flowers can be picked and turned into food/drink, highlighting that sometimes preparing food/drink can be free and doesn’t have to come from the shops!
Each year, we grow our own ingredients in our growing area; from peas, tomatoes, potatoes, and even strawberries! So the children really understand and appreciate the concept of home-grown ingredients and the skill, care and sense of accomplishment that comes from this!
The children then pick whatever we’ve grown and help to prepare these to be used in our daily meals/puddings, so from start to finish, it has been entirely the children’s hard work and commitment to grow them so well, and then they get to eat them!
In addition to this, we often ‘make’ gifts for the children’s parents for special occasions and Christmas; not from shop-bought activities, but instead, we forage for ingredients in the wild and the children work hard to use the ingredients to make something delicious for their families; our specialities so far have included elderflower cordial, jam, tomato ketchup and this year’s special gift is home-made plum gin!
Not only is this a great way of gifting whilst still being sustainable and environmentally responsible, but it also gives the children an understanding of what the world can give us and how endless the possibilities are with things we can grow and discover as a result; the learning opportunities that children can encompass from growing, foraging and working together to create something edible for their families are absolutely priceless.
During our regular beach school sessions the children began to notice rubbish washed up on the shore, and of course were curious about this, and so we discussed what happens when people litter and the detrimental impact this can have on not only the environment in front of them, but the wider impact on our ocean and the creatures that live in it, and so after witnessing this first hand, we now regularly hold beach cleans of our local beaches to ensure that we are doing our bit to keep our beaches safe and clean for the benefit of the wider environment.
We have also introduced books to support and enhance the children’s learning and understanding
We have also introduced books to support and enhance the children’s learning and understanding of various other concepts and ways in which to be responsible for our environment and this has really enabled them to make the connection between actions/impact on the environment – this is particularly evident in their understanding of palm oil and the impact this has on our jungles and in turn on our primates; thanks to the book ‘There’s a ‘Rang-tan in my bedroom’ and a deeper understanding of litter and the bigger impact this has on the environment and the oceans simultaneously thanks to the book ‘A planet full of plastic’.
In our experience, supporting children in becoming environmentally aware as soon as it is developmentally appropriate is a key step in shaping not only the children’s experiences and respect for the wider world, but in order to ensure that these small habits and practices, have an ever-lasting impact on the children and the way in which they treat the environment, which essentially, has long term benefits on our planet as we raise our children to be environmentally aware from the outset.