Sustainability in action ECE services making a difference

Published on Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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There are many ways early childhood education (ECE) services can care for the planet as well as for their children. Educators might switch to eco-friendly alternatives, introduce sustainable practices, or encourage greater environmental engagement, and whatever form an eco-drive takes, this is an opportunity for educators and children to work together in a positive way.

To get a sense of how ECE services are thinking globally and acting locally, let's look at various centres where sustainability is part of the early learning experience.

1. Precious Pipis Childcare

Small changes can make a big difference, and at Precious Pipis Childcare Centre in West Auckland, educators and children have successfully reduced their daily waste and introduced some great sustainable practices.

In particular, Precious Pipis Childcare Centre has:

  • Swapped disposable nappies for cloth ones
  • Switched paper towels for flannels
  • Removed its large skip bin
  • Started feeding food scraps to its chicken and pigs
  • Started making 'eco bricks' for building activities by stuffing soft plastics into up-cycled bottles
  • Planted vegetables with the children to use in their cooking
  • Stopped using plastic straws and glitter for art and craft

Already, these eco-friendly initiatives have succeeded in cutting down the centre's waste, and centre manager, Sammie O'Neill says the eco-drive is, "So important for our children. We are here to provide the best love and care for [them] and we want to teach them about looking after the world… Global warming is such a huge thing and it's these children that we are looking after that are going to have to deal with the outcomes that people are making now."

2. Morgan Educare Centre

This Hawke's Bay ECE service is another place where educators and 'little eco warriors’ have successfully combined their powers to go green.

They won a Sustainable School Award in 2017, and over the past few years, the centre has installed solar energy, set up recycling stations, established vegie gardens, composting and worm farms, and participated in local clean-up events.

3. Chrysalis Early Learning Centre

This organically-shaped Auckland service was designed with sustainability in mind and it features fruit orchards, solar power, and rainwater harvesting systems for its laundry and bathrooms. With lots of natural materials and a play-garden concept, it's an enriching environment for young children.

4. Learning Links Child Care

Learning Links has seven ECE services across New Zealand and says it is, 'Committed to sustainable practices and is striving to be a zero-waste organisation.'

With a focus on reducing, reusing and recycling, children are given opportunities to garden, harvest and engage with nature - both at their service and in 'forest sessions' in the great outdoors.

What does the Enviroschools programme mean for ECE services?

Enviroschools is another great way to teach young children about sustainability. Five per cent of early learning centres, plus hundreds of schools, are involved in this action-based education programme and it involves a facilitator working with the ECE service to, 'Motivate, advise, support and guide their vision for a sustainable future.'

Little Earth Montessori in Queenstown is an Enviroschool where children help with the garden and worm farm, recycle and look after the service's rabbit and chickens.

While Wanaka Preschool offers the Explorers Programme as part of its commitment to being an Enviroschool. This programme sees the oldest preschoolers spending one morning a week in a local park, observing plants, creatures and seasonal changes. Through nature-based play, this service has been successful in helping the children develop a sense of guardianship over the park and respect for the environment generally.

The above ECE services are just a snapshot of what's happening around the country. Many early childhood education centres incorporate sustainable practices in their day-to-day, and educators play a key role in teaching under fives about the environment.

For this reason, it's important that educators lead by example, choose enviro-friendly options where possible, inspire a love of nature and encourage children to do simple things, like separating rubbish into compost, recycling or general waste.

Young children are eager to learn and enthusiastic about new experiences, so let's harness that energy and go green!

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