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Multiple benefits of being Eco Smart – NSW SPROuts Awards Pt 2

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Striving to be ‘greener’ has led three award-winning services on very different journeys that have improved other learning and development outcomes.

In Part 2 of our focus on Education for Sustainability we find out how KU Children’s Services are embracing environmental sustainability, which led to two services winning SPROuts (Sustainable Projects Recognising Outstanding Practice) awards last year: KU West Pymble came second with their waste management initiative that increased children’s agency and voice, and KU Chatswood Community Preschool created a shared resource that improved children’s literacy and numeracy while connecting and engaging with families.

Sustainability – a way of living

For KU Education for Sustainability Facilitator, Deb Watson, being ‘Eco Smart’ is not just about the practical aspects of teaching children how to be greener. Deb believes that “If your heart is in it, it’s all about the way you live your whole life.”

Deb is also the Treasurer of ECEEN and has adapted their EcoSmart: A Sustainable Standard for Early Education guide into the Becoming Eco Smart Together (BEST) training program for KU.

BEST utilises the UNESCO competencies and addresses these three key principles for transformation:

  • Head – Critical Reflection
  • Heart – Genuine Engagement
  • Hands – Embedded practice

It all begins with an audit

The beginning of the process is an Eco Smart audit that covers 30 points and aligns with all seven quality areas. Deb believes that conducting an audit is fundamental because, “In order to move forward, you need to know who you are and what you are doing. Then we identify your strengths and use those to target your opportunities for growth.”

“For example, one of our centres was keen on their gardening and were planning to renovate their playground. This provided an opportunity to rethink the materials they were using in their crafts and loose-parts play, so they could use natural elements like flowers, nuts, grasses, seeds, feathers and leaves.”

“Another centre’s strength is its relationships with families. They discovered that families were really keen on the idea of a ‘clothes swap’. They now set up a space four times a year in their centre to hang and arrange the clothes and as parents drop off their children, they also contribute clothes and browse for anything they want to take home.”

“Every decision with every project has that inspirational moment – one person goes “Hey we could … and another person builds on that idea – ‘Yeah, and we could… and that’s how you build that idea and bring the team in. It can’t just be your idea, everyone has to feel engaged for it to work.”

KU West Pymble empower children to help reduce waste

2019 SPROuts award second-place winner

At KU West Pymble, The Becoming Eco Smart Together Committee wanted to reduce waste from children’s food boxes and increase their understanding of water as a resource that sustains all living things. They achieved success by listening to ideas the children proposed and empowering them to act on them.

Child-led initiatives included conducting a waste audit and classifying their waste into different categories. This led the children to realise how many unrecyclable yoghurt pouches were in their lunch boxes and resulted in the parent handbook being changed to ask parents to avoid using them. Other projects initiated by the children included introducing a recycling project and making their own paper.

“We take notice when a child asks a question or has an idea,” says Director Katrina Hendry. “For example, one day one child asked why the grass at the front entrance of preschool was always getting worn and muddy – we paid more attention and realized that people were taking a shortcut and walking across the grass.

“The children made a plan to solve this problem and improve how our front garden is laid out. They consulted Guringai Elder Uncle Laurie and bush regeneration groups on how to construct the garden better, with plantings, to avoid people walking through the grass.”

“Another time we went for a walk to a nearby creek and the children noticed the water had turned an orange colour. We helped them to contact the council to find out why this had occurred. James Chan at Ku-ring-gai Council commented on the children’s interest and observations and helped us to explore the iron-oxidizing bacteria which we saw. We did a pike test using a stick and collected water samples to see if stormwater impacted on the levels or washed it through the creek.

“Through these environmental sustainability projects, we encouraged children to observe, ask questions and make suggestions. We honoured children’s ability to initiate and lead the inquiry and their right to be heard. They understood the power they have to make a difference in their community.”

KU Chatswood Community Preschool turn fear to curiosity

2019 SPROuts award third-place winner

Third Place was awarded to KU Chatswood Community Preschool for an innovative literacy project called “Aah Spider!”

“Nearly all the children at KU Chatswood are from culturally diverse backgrounds,” says Lead Educator Fay Knibbs. “We noticed that many of the children had a fear of tiny insects that were harmless. They would see creatures like daddy long legs or an ant, and scream ‘ah spider’ and  ‘kill it’.”

“We wanted to encourage the children to think about the small size of insects, what use they were, where they fit in the life cycle of other animals, like birds. To be curious and observe what they see, instead of reacting with fear.”

“We also knew that many of the parents put great value on their children learning literacy and numeracy, so we decided to create our own book inspired by the children’s books ‘Aaagh Spider’ by Lydia Monk and  ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?’ by David Glenn.”

“Our book starts off with a picture of a Brush Turkey that visits the nature area next to the pre-school and says ‘Brush Turkey, Brush Turkey what do you see?’ Each child and their family add to the book by taking a picture of an animal or plant and then we write what they see. For example, ‘I see a praying mantis looking at me’.”

“Our families really liked the book, the parents liked to learn the names of all the creatures they didn’t know. They really responded when we asked the children to take pictures of shapes in nature – they came back with a pineapple – showing hexagons, and a dandelion head, showing a sphere,  and a fern stem where they counted the leaves.”

Find out more and download the guidelines for the 2020 SPROuts Awards – open until 30 November:
https://eceen.org.au/sprouts.htm

Read part 1 of this two-part series here.


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