A case study in sustainability Setting up children, and the planet, for the future

Published on Tuesday, 13 August 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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With increasing emphasis maintaining positive environmental practices in early learning services, the children at Learning Adventures Warkworth could teach many others a few things about sustainability.

Sustainable practices make up a great part of their day, from feeding their morning tea scraps to the centre chickens, through to bringing the contents of their vacuum cleaner bags in for the worm farm.

The centre manager of Learning Adventures Warkworth, Michelle Wewege, says the knowledge children are gaining from the centre's strong environmental focus is proving invaluable, not just for the children themselves, but also for the planet.

"Sustainability is a huge part of our philosophy and also our strategic plan. As a team we are brainstorming a way forward with our sustainability and we have now also split our rooms to enable teachers to engage more with children. This has made us look closely at better ways we can introduce sustainable practices into our daily routines within our teaching."

Ms Wewege says slowly, but surely, children and staff are making great inroads. Cloth nappies have been used for many years and the team is now considering fully compostable eco nappies.

Meanwhile, the centre gardens are home to a thriving worm farm, compost area, and pet chickens.

"Children take all our used paper towels and place them into the compost bin and we also get them to rip up any excess paper and cardboard for the worms and compost."

As well as feeding the chickens, Ms Wewege said children collect the eggs and use them to bake with, along with other fruit and vegetables gathered from the sustainable gardens which the children plant, mulch and maintain.

The local Warkworth community has chipped in to support the centre by providing wood offcuts, magazines, and cardboard which the children use at the writing station and in their art projects. In addition, a community pantry set up at the sign-in desk enables centre families to share excess fruit, vegetables and eggs.

By teaching children to respect and care for their planet and their communities, Learning Adventures Warkworth is playing its part in forging a brighter future for all of us.

We asked Ms Wewege what recommendations she has for services wanting to boost their sustainability practices.

Many services struggle to know where to start when it comes to improving their sustainability practices, so what are some easy things other services can do to quickly and easily improve their practices?

We found the easiest thing to start off with was replacing plastic bags with wet bags which we attached to each child's bag for their wet clothing. We also replaced all plastic bags with reusable shopping bags.

We bought a worm farm, compost bin, and got two chickens for our sustainable garden. These obviously depend on the size of the service and also the locality of the centre. We are semi-rural, so chickens were an easy addition and a huge attraction to our families and children.

We also stopped buying balloons, straws, and glitter which seems like a small thing, but all adds up in the end. Our educators also made a decision to stop buying plastic toys which was an easy starting point too.

Many services also struggle with the concept of cloth nappies due to the sheer volume of children, how have you solved the nappy dilemma?

This was a long process of looking into our daily routines and implementing strategies that allowed us to launder and manage cloth nappies. A positive attitude from staff was central to this initiative working. We have been using cloth nappies for around three years now and we are now looking into not replacing these but getting compostable disposable nappies instead. I have contacted Little and Brave eco nappies and I am waiting for a reply from them. We are wanting to be a central pick up location for them, where families who use these nappies can drop them off with us for collection once a week.

Do you also engage in explicit teaching around sustainability, or is it more of an immersive, hands on process?

Initially we spoke to the children about Papatuanuku and how we should look after her and respect her. We then taught the children which colour bin was for which piece of waste. It is so wonderful and fulfilling as a teacher to see children now actively seeking out the correct bin for the piece of waste that they have.

Learning is probably more immersive now we have created routines where children contribute to our sustainable vision by feeding chickens, collecting eggs, planting, stocking up the community pantry, recycling, and reusing. Every Wednesday we walk to ballet and on the walk we collect any rubbish that is lying around and we bring that back to the centre for recycling. Little routines like that all make our sustainable vision real for us.

What has been the response of families in your service? Has it encouraged them to change their practices too?

Our families love that we teach our children to respect our earth and also our resources. Parents have all volunteered to help in the sustainable garden and have also brought in reusable resources for us to use in our art activities. We have heard amazing stories of how our children have implemented what we have taught them at home by helping mum and dad recycle, plant out gardens, harvest their crops and share these crops with the centre and community.

What are your plans for building on your amazing sustainability record moving forward?

As I said before we are looking into changing our cloth nappies for compostable disposable nappies and a huge focus in the coming year will be to harvest our own water using our sandpit roof. We are also looking into taking our own containers to the supermarket for our weekly shop.

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