Teaching sustainability to young people

Published on Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Last updated on Thursday, 13 May 2021

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While sustainability may be a bit of a buzzword these days, it is essential for all of us, on an individual and business level, to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.

It’s especially important for those of us working in early learning environments to instil sustainable ideologies and practices among the children in our care. This is so that future generations will naturally live more sustainably, without having to unlearn the bad habits that previous generations have had to.

This week, 10 fun and easy ways to teach the children in your service about living sustainably every day.

  1. Set up a rainwater tank

While you can obviously do this for your centre as a whole, you can also set up a small garden tank to show the children how rainwater is collected and used. Help them to collect water for the garden and any animals you may have at your centre, as well as using it for water play.

Australian company Rainwell supplies and installs hand pumps that can be connected to small rainwater tanks, demonstrating the work involved to collect water for use, and teaching children that the supply is not endless to encourage a healthy respect for this valuable resource. 

  1. Plant an edible garden

Providing children an opportunity to plant, tend and harvest fruits and veggies from a garden has many wonderful benefits. Taking care of delicate seedlings helps children learn to be gentle in their handling, while everyday watering and tending teaches them responsibility as well as delayed gratification while waiting for plants to grow - all excellent lessons.

You can also use this fun activity to teach children about sustainable food sources, showing them where their food comes from, teaching them to use water responsibly - what’s taken from a rainwater tank, the leftovers from cups and drink bottles, or water collected in a bowl when washing their hands, for example - and educating them about eating with the seasons. 

  1. Build a worm farm

As we all know, kids are often fascinated by bugs, as well as by dirt and rubbish, so another great way to encourage sustainability through play is to start a worm farm to recycle food scraps and feed your edible garden.

Whether you buy a worm farm kit or build a simple farm yourselves, the children will see how the scraps of food that they don’t eat are fed to the wriggly, squiggly worms in the farm, and how those worms then create liquid and solid fertilisers - worm wee and poo! - to feed the fruits and veggies in the edible garden. 

  1. Start a compost bin

This can be done in tandem with worm farm, to demonstrate the natural process of decomposition, and to use up other scraps from the centre including bits of paper and cardboard as well as excess food scraps. Whether you buy a compost bin, create your own structure or simply start an in-ground pile, creating your own compost is a rewarding and very educational process that is a great idea for children to bring home with them too. 

  1. Raise chickens

Not every centre is going to be set up with the space to house their own chickens, but for those that have it, chooks are a great choice for pets with benefits. Not only does helping to feed, water and care for their feathered friends teach children about responsibility, gentle play and taking care around animals, they can also learn about the life cycle of chickens and eggs, see another way to use food scraps to minimise household waste even further, and learn how to gather chook poo as another valuable fertiliser for their veggie garden.

  1. Teach children to sort recycling

When waste is produced within the centre that can’t be turned into compost, such as empty plastic bottles, glass jars or washed-out tins, use the opportunity to teach children how to sort recycling into different bins for paper, plastic (soft plastics can be recycled into REDcycle bins at some supermarkets), metal and glass.

Make a game of it by having a big bag of recyclables and four bins with pictures of different materials on them, as well as the words ‘Paper’, ‘Plastic’, ‘Metal’ and ‘Glass’. Ask each child to take an item out of the bag and choose for themselves which bin they should place it in.

  1. Use recycled/found craft materials

These bins can then become excellent sources of craft materials before they’re ready to be taken away. An empty jam jar can become a wonderful terrarium that can be taken home as a gift for Mum and Dad. Or a kitchen towel roll can become a cute cat puppet to play with.

Alternatively, natural materials such as leaves and twigs, gumnuts, flowers and more can be turned into collages, paint brushes, crayon rubbings and more with just a bit of imagination.

  1. Learn about reusing and repairing

Old skills such as repairing broken toys and sewing patches on ripped clothes have fallen by the wayside in an age of convenient consumerism and fast fashion (think fast food, but with jeans instead of chicken nuggets).

Children as young as two or three can learn how to sew, given the correct tools (such as big, dull embroidery needles, large-hole mesh and a frame to hold) and proper supervision.  

  1. Have energy/water-use monitors

Children love having jobs to do and being involved in everyday activities. Why not employ a different little helper each day to help monitor things like turning lights off when you all leave the room, or making sure taps are turned off after everyone’s done washing their hands?

A water monitor can even be in charge of gathering together the water leftover in everyone’s cups after lunch to use in the garden that afternoon. 

  1. Talk to council about having kids plant trees in the community

With consent - and if possible involvement - from families and your local council, it can be a great idea to take children on a supervised excursion into the community to plant native trees in an area near your centre in need of regeneration.

This can be a way for children to learn about the facts of deforestation and the practicality of bush regeneration, to help sustain the environment for future generations.

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