When we think about early learning for environmental sustainability the first things that come to mind for many are improving recycling, reducing waste and setting up a compost bin or worm farm. But there’s so much more that can be done.
Since 2005 the NSW Early Childhood Environment Educators Network (ECEEN) has encouraged services taking these kinds of steps, and inspired them to go further by running the SPROuts Awards (Sustainable Projects Recognising Outstanding Practice).
In this two-part series, we interview the winners of the 2019 SPROut Awards to find out the exciting ways in which they are embracing environmental sustainability. Perhaps their stories may inspire you to review what you are doing or to enter this year’s awards (closing date 30 November).
The SPROuts Awards are open to members of NSW ECEEN to showcase the projects which demonstrate their commitment to learning for sustainability.
The guidelines for the awards state that ‘Educating for Sustainable Development is more than greening your physical environment and includes working with staff, families and management to consider educational strategies for living a sustainable life.’
They encourage applicants for the awards to show how their sustainability practices:
- Are based on and encourage critical reflection;
- Are embedded within the service practices, and
- Are genuinely engaging with families and the community.
They also investigate how education for sustainability is applied across all of the seven Quality Areas of the National Quality Standards, and have an advocacy component that demonstrates children as capable and competent with agency.
How embedding custodianship has created a deeper connection to place for Concord West Rhodes Preschool
The winner of the 2019 SPROuts Awards – Concord West Rhodes Preschool – exemplifies a comprehensive approach to education for sustainability.
“We’ve been on the journey of taking care of our environment through sustainability practices for seven years,” said Director Marnie Omeragic. “It started in 2013 when in our first assessment with the new Quality Standards we did well in our sustainable practices. We were linked in with ECEEN, brought people in to teach us about composting and worm farming and conducted an environmental audit, followed by other projects and practices to reduce our environmental footprint.”
We also really embraced the indigenous perspectives and sustainable practice in the updated EYLF. When I became the director in 2013, I wanted to avoid tokenism by ensuring what we do is ethical, meaningful and connected to our community and place.
In their winning SPROuts entry, the team wanted to show how embedding sustainable practices have merged with connections to nature and the way they connect children to the community and to Country through the lense of ‘Custodianship’.
“By Custodianship, we mean that we can see the children are becoming observers of the land, waterways, animals, plants, and air,” explains Marnie. “They develop a ‘relationship’ with their Place, beginning with a physical connection and resulting in an emotional connection – caring.”
Concord West Rhodes Preschool practiced custodianship by:
- Inviting Indigenous knowledge keepers in to share Culture and walk with the children on Country to share knowledge about seasonal indicators, bush tucker, a local Scar Tree, medicine and traditional stories that keep wildlife, plants and each other safe.
- Following the Dharawal seasonal calendar using nature as the indicator for the change in season, not the month.
- Participating in the construction of a Five Senses Community Garden alongside the preschool that includes a nature playground, community garden and Bush Tucker garden.
“So our sustainable practices, linked in with indigenous perspectives, nature play and being out in the country have come together and in our curriculum, we call it custodianship. The children feel good in that space – they learn about their connection to their surroundings and each other. They also get inspired as advocates – they’re learning about what they’re seeing, developing an emotional relationship with what they’re seeing, and it motivates them to care, respect, look after and tell others how to do that.
“A parent told us that when he was walking with his 4-year-old daughter they passed a native plant that she told him was a Gymea Lilly, ‘When it grows a tall red flower the whales know it’s time to move to warm water. Did you know that some countries hunt whales!’ “
Since winning the award last November, Concord West Preschool has found ways to maintain their focus on education for sustainability even through the COVID restrictions.
“We’re very nature play-based,” shares Marnie. “Our play areas have outdoor learning spaces, with a fire pit and a deck in our bush tucker area, so we’ve been outside even more since COVID because it was harder to physically distance in the smaller spaces inside – the children have been outside from 8am to 3.30pm.
“Since the Five Senses Garden and café next door closed, it’s been safe for us to visit again, and our four classes go out once a week and connect with different spaces, and we go for a 40-minute walk to the river.”
Find out more and download the guidelines for the 2020 SPROuts Awards – open until 30 November.
In Part 2 we explore how two other winners KU West Pymble and KU Chatswood used environmental education to develop children’s agency and to improve literacy and numeracy, and how KU children’s services are supporting environmental sustainability through it’s Be Eco Smart Together training program.
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