Early years education for sustainable development
When we look at the world, we see a huge divide between those who have practically nothing and those who have so much. One aspect of this divide is the issue of waste; not only the amount of waste created, but the attitudes people have towards it. Pete Milne thinks it is important that children in the early years are given opportunities to develop their environmental thinking.
The right opportunities
But how 3 years olds play a part in making a difference to how we view waste and care for the environment? As a young child, having a voice and being listened to can only evolve if they are given the right opportunities, in school and at home, to learn and to do something about environmental issues. This in turn is also dependent upon the ability and the motivation of adults and societies to teach and to listen. The integration of these activities requires a whole school community approach, from a personal to global perspective, so that children from a young age are able to understand that what we do has an impact on the one place we all call home: planet Earth.
A key element of the Early Years’ Programme I developed in 2013, and its subsequent success, has been running it as a whole-school initiative involving the community, supported if necessary by a CSR (Corporate social responsibility) initiative (in the case of Dubai, with Emirates NBD) and the backing and support of EY experts (Early Years Educational service or EYES in the UAE and the National Early Years Trainers and Consultants NEYTCO in the UK).
The programme involves working directly with pupils, parents and teachers, focusing on the why, and then the how. It includes:
- an in-school assessment and report of waste, energy, water and resources
- a workshop for teachers
- interactive activities with the children
- a meeting with key personnel at the school to discuss planning
- a parent workshop, with discussion time
Key factors for success
Having run the programme or similar in over 30 schools, what I have found is that school leaders must be proactive in developing a school ethos, if an initiative is to go beyond mere promotion of good environmental practice to genuinely “walking the talk”.
From a business perspective, running a good programme can also save each participating school a significant amount of money through physical and mind-set changes, so initial investment makes economic, social and environmental sense anyway.
It is also important to bring in staff training that focuses on the school or nursery as a whole and helps to motivate teachers to look for cross-curricular opportunities. They need to become leaders in good practice, both in the classroom, through energy and waste conservation, and when out on field trips. This is not about adding to a teacher’s already busy workload; it is about enhancing what they already do.
The full day programme in school promotes the idea that children, even from a young age, can be agents of change, but they need to be listened to. By involving the whole school community in this process, children can develop a sense of empowerment when they see change happening. This generates physical and behavioural changes, and a greater respect for planet Earth and her resources. Good practice at school then cascades into the home.
Reconnecting with nature
As long as students of all ages understand why we need to change, and are part of the rethinking process, then we can develop future generations that genuinely care about the world around them. With such a diverse mixture of cultures and nationalities in Dubai, teaching three-to-five year-olds about the environment and how to look after it certainly had its challenges.
Using very visual stimuli, particularly a toy turtle and camel, as recognizable central characters in the storytelling sessions, helped to make the most of cultural differences and lessen the impact of different levels of knowledge.
What I have found is that the programme has re-connected many of the children with the natural environment by motivating schools and parents to take their children out to nature more often.
There is a real need to be introduced to natural environments, not only in Dubai, but also in many urban settings, where a large majority of children have never had the opportunity to explore beyond the city limits.
For the children, the benefits of this experience are simple. They learn about their local environment, the animals and plants that live there and how waste damages these natural habitats; subsequently they enjoy interactive activities and storytelling that encourage them to sort waste and make choices which are better for the animals and environment.
This approach is both local and global and can be adapted to meet the needs of different communities around the world. But at the heart of the programme is its personal element. It is important to start with individual awareness, personal attitudes, analysis of thoughts and practice, and finish with meaningful and valuable action.
If we don’t start with ourselves, then where do we start?
Peter Milne is a former teacher with over 20 years’ experience and in-depth knowledge of British and IB curricula. Throughout his teaching career in the UK, Malaysia and Dubai, Peter took on roles that developed and enhanced Environmental Education and Outdoor Learning opportunities. Since September 2012, Peter has worked as an Environmental Education Consultant/Trainer and, through the success achieved in the UAE, formed Target4Green Educational Consultancy and Training Ltd upon his return to the UK.
For more information, visit www.target4green.com