How can we support children to care for the environment?

We’re brainstorming different ways an early childhood education centre could live its values out loud and make a big noise about these wonderful things we want our children to pick up on.

Today we’re looking at caring for the environment, and we’d love to hear your ideas and tips in the comments below, and on our Facebook page, to share around.


Talking about Caring for the Environment with Children

There are a few different key phrases you might want to mention to children throughout the day. 

  • It’s good to take care of the environment, isn’t it?
  • We need to be careful with the resources we use.
  • It’s not very sustainable to leave lights on when we don’t need them.
  • Let’s not create waste.

Activities to take Care of the Environment Together

This is an area where children really can make a significant contribution. Their choices and actions can make the world a better place, and the habits they form as little ones will help the planet for decades to come.

So you don’t need to just pretend to take care of the earth when playing and learning with children. You can find a way to do it.

Dig into the Earth and Start a Garden

Is a garden something your centre can consider if you don’t already have one? Even a very small box of food such as herbs or veggies can give children a valuable way to connect with nature and the earth. Teach them the joy of clean, green places where they can learn about the nutrients in the soil, how to water plants, visiting animals and insects, and plant life. 

You can explore some ideas for gardening in an early childhood education centre here.

A toddler playing in the grass

Build a Bug Hotel

Make a bug hotel to encourage wildlife in your own area. You can make it out of just about anything!

Follow these directions and get children excited about seeing what bugs will arrive once there’s a new home for them in your playground.

Power Saving Team!

Form your children into a Power Saving Team.

Read some books about how power is generated in your area, and how saving power can reduce our impact on the environment.

Take a tour of your centre, noting every appliance that uses electricity. Have the teachers remembered to turn them off at the wall when not in use? Do the inside lights need to be on when we’re all out in the playground? Celebrate when they remind you to turn off the light or any appliances to save power and encourage them to do the same at home. Whoever pays the bills at home will thank you, too!

You can do something similar with conserving water, too.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

  • Read George Saves the World By Lunchtime or another book that focuses on saving the environment by reducing waste.
  • Get children to make collages or other art identifying different kinds of packaging and waste.
  • Practise identifying recyclable materials, and putting them in a recycling bin. You might even want to do some water play, washing things before they go to the recycling centre.
  • If you’re really keen, ask your children to help you do a waste audit at your centre. How much rubbish do you throw out each day or week? How much of that could be reduced, reused, recycled or repaired? How can you solve these problems together?

A teacher teaching a child gardening

Field trip to a Recycling Centre or Landfill

A key lesson we all need to learn about waste and ‘throwing things away’ is that there’s no such thing as ‘away.’ There’s just somewhere else.

If an outing is within your capacity, perhaps you could take some children to your local recycling station or any nearby landfills so the ‘away’ isn’t hidden.

Most recycling businesses welcome public visits to see what happens to rubbish behind the scenes – what a fascinating adventure that could be!

Mentioning Care for the Environment throughout the Day

Once care for the environment is something you regularly talk about with children, you can find a way to point out examples of it in your everyday activities.

Which of these things can we recycle, to look after the environment?’

‘Let’s turn the lights off as we go out. Saving power helps us look after the environment, doesn’t it?’

‘We’ll wash these to use again, so we don’t mess up the environment with too much rubbish.’

‘Let’s turn the tap off while we soap our hands, so we don’t waste this beautiful, clean water.’

I’m sure you already do this kind of thing, whether it’s with bravery or with ‘kind hands’ or ‘using our words. Don’t you find it can make a real difference  when we point these things out, to identify them as they happen?

A young boy using a shovel to dig into the ground while gardening

Read books about Caring for the Environment

George Saves the World by Lunchtime, by Jo Readman and Ley Honor Roberts, is an excellent resource. George’s grandfather leads him through a day of everyday activities, from the garden to the recycling centre, that help people look after the environment. Here are some teaching resources to go with the book.

Tamanui the Brave Kōkako of Taranaki, by Rebecca Beyer and Linley Wellington, illustrated by Andrew Burdan. This book tells the story of how the kōkako became a threatened native species in New Zealand, and how the last bird in one forest was relocated as part of an effort to save the species. There are more resources, including a video of efforts to reintroduce kōkako to the forest, here. (Available in English and te reo Māori.)

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, by Miranda Paul, is an award-winning picture book about one woman starting a recycling revolution. There are teacher resources for the book here.

Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth, by Mary McKenna Siddals is a fun, colourful rhyming alphabet book taking us through all the kinds of things that can be turned into compost. There are lots of teaching resources to go alongside the book here.

Jeannie Baker’s Window is a nearly textless sophisticated picture book, showing how the view from one window changes as humans have an impact on the environment.

The delightful sibling pair, Charlie and Lola, have a recycling book! We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers, by Lauren Child follows Lola’s adventures as she gets her class on board to try and win a recycling competition.

The Lorax is a classic Dr Seuss warning against polluting the environment. It’s on the long side, but for children who are up for it, it’s got a lot to say about making wise choices about how we look after the world around us.

Another Dr Seuss favourite, The Cat in the Hat Came Back, shows how easily mess spreads, and how a little bit of prevention can save a lot of cleaning up.

Please let us know your favourites that other centres could hunt down.

A young girl using a shovel to dig a hole for a vegetable garden

In this recent article on spirituality and religious life in early childhood education, I talked about finding common ground and making the most of it. Families from all religious – and secular – backgrounds will appreciate a centre focusing on values and virtues.

It’s worth remembering that every time you focus on positive character development, you will be further endearing your centre to parents. Make the most of this! Ensure parents know that you care about helping their children practise generosity, and celebrate wise choices in your learning stories.

Probably many of your families come from religious or cultural backgrounds that have their own wisdom to offer on why we should care for the earth, and how to do it. Why not ask what these are?

Here’s an example of the kind of note you could pop in your next newsletter:

‘This month we are focusing on looking after the environment. We will be doing X, Y and Z, and we would also like to include advice and stories from all our children’s cultures and religions. Are there religious or cultural reasons your family likes to look after the earth? Does your family enjoy doing something, in particular, to care for the environment? Please let us know anything we can share and work into our planning.’

What other ideas do you have that you could share with other readers? How are your children learning wisdom at your centre and at home? Let us know in a comment below, or on our Facebook page.

Thalia Kehoe Rowden was a Playcentre kid before attending St John’s Hill Kindergarten in Whanganui, New Zealand. Some time later, she became a Baptist church minister, then a mother and a writer. She now lives with her husband and two small children in Wellington, New Zealand, and knows more about dinosaurs and astronomy than ever before. You can follow her on TwitterFacebook, and her parenting, spirituality and social justice website, Sacraparental.

Posted by Sonya McIntyre

Sonya was born in Lower Hutt and went to Rata Street Kindergarten and Petone Kindergarten. A qualified ECE, she studied at Victoria University in Wellington and has worked with home-based educators, in community-based childcare and in kindergarten. With childhood memories of reading books and writing stories, combined with her passion for all things social media, Sonya segued into her role with us at Storypark as social media manager.

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  1. The Bug Hotel is definitely something I am going to do with my bug obsessed kids. I found some good instructions here:


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