Going green - Improving sustainability practices in your centre

Published on Tuesday, 22 October 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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Reducing waste and taking care of the environment has never been more important to lessen the effects of climate change and ensure future generations can continue to thrive. Every small bit can make a big difference and it's ideal for children to learn 'green' practices from an early age both at home and in an early childhood setting, so they become a standard way of life.

An early childhood centre that goes the extra mile in helping the environment with sustainable practices can also be a great point of difference in the eyes of both parents and staff members, and luckily there are lots of simple ways to do it.

The Auckland centre showing us how it's done

One New Zealand early childhood service that's certainly leading the way with sustainability and reduced carbon footprint is Precious Pipis Childcare Centre in Waimauku, West Auckland.

According to Stuff.co.nz, they started by swapping disposable nappies for cloth nappies which very quickly became a permanent switch and encouraged them to start thinking about other ways they could reduce waste and be more sustainable.

The centre now uses flannels instead of paper towels, feeds food scraps to its chickens and pigs, has removed a large skip bin and has banned the use of plastic straws and glitter for arts and crafts.

Families are also encouraged to bring in soft plastics to create eco bricks for building materials, and children help plant vegetables in the garden which are then used in cooking.

"We have cut our waste down so much," said Precious Pipis Manager, Sammie O'Neill, to Stuff.co.nz. "It's so important for our children. We are here to provide the best love and care for the children 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," she added.

A national move towards sustainability

Helping the environment is something the NZ Ministry of Education is also heavily promoting through its Enviroschools programme which aims to empower children and young people to design and lead sustainable projects to help create real change. Currently 1,100 schools and early learning centres across the country participate in the program.

"We encourage schools to manage waste with the least negative effects possible on the environment," said Ministry of Education Deputy Secretary of Early Learning and Student Achievement, Ellen MacGregor-Reid. "Separating, reducing, recycling and composting waste are advised."

According to Stuff.co.nz, she also said it was important to educate students on how and why to be connected to the land and environment.

How to be greener in your place of service

So how can you increase the sustainability practices in your centre? It's a lot easier than you might think. Here are a stack of great tips and ideas for inspiration.

  • Display posters and materials about helping the environment and include books with waste reduction and sustainability themes in story time.
  • Ensure an effective recycling system is in place for bottles, paper, plastics and composting and engage the children in all areas.
  • Use recyclable items and reuse materials wherever possible, such as boxes and paper for craft.
  • Create a veggie garden that the children can help out in and that you can also harvest for use in kindy meals.
  • Encourage children to use the half flush on the toilets, turn the tap off after washing their hands and to wear jumpers instead of turning on the heater.
  • Discuss and educate about sustainable practices at home such as turning the tap off to brush your teeth, not wasting food and turning off lights and electronic devices when not required.
  • Use environmentally friendly products in your centre.
  • Ensure all educators are good role models for the children and practising green behaviours at all times e.g. recycling water from water play activities into the garden or opening a window instead of using air-conditioning.
  • Take children on excursions to relevant locations such as the local community garden, reverse garbage centre, or waste recycling plant and go on nature walks.
  • Discuss and research native wildlife and pets with the children so they understand the impact of human actions on other living creatures and know how to care for animals.
  • Ensure rainwater tank water is used for water play and watering the garden.
  • Consider installing timer taps in bathrooms and fix leaky taps.
  • Use a washing line instead of dryer to dry cloths and other items.
  • Engage children in environment themed games and other activities
    • Sorting out waste items, what are they and which goes where.
    • Making paint from bark or other plant life.
    • Collecting natural items to create collages, craft and use in imaginative play.
  • Purchase more potted plants to have around the centre.
  • Invite families to bring in old materials for craft purposes and be involved in sustainability discussions and activities.

Thanks to Stepping Stone and Little Green Steps for their tips on how to encourage green practices in early childcare settings.

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