Currently, we are over-using the earth, and that’s a worry. Our buy now, think later mindset is creating a world where we will shortly start to run out of resources. Role modeling is a very effective teaching strategy and one we can use to make a difference in this situation.
It is our responsibility to alert children, teachers, families, and the wider community to the many ways of acting that support the earth.
Here are some actionable tips to lead your early learning community on the journey to making a sustainable difference in the world.
In the office space
- Choose to buy products that come with minimal and eco-friendly packaging, using less plastic means creating less waste.
- Consider communicating with suppliers that you would prefer they supply packaging and products that are eco-friendly. They will learn just how important this is to you, their customer. They will potentially consider providing alternatives that are better for the earth.
- Buy recycled photocopy paper, paper towels, and toilet paper. This one is easy, and really supports the organisations that make this a priority.
- Choose stationery that is made with recycled materials, and use them thoughtfully. If you own 10 pens, you will be more aware of where they are than if you have an endless supply.
- Sort your rubbish by type. Organize it into categories of paper, plastic, general waste, and food scraps. Recycle it.
- Buy products and resources for children that are sustainably built, and eco-friendly. If you are unsure, ask. There is a lot of power in your money, and most sellers are buyer responsive. That is, they want to know what you want to buy, because then they will make a sale.
- Consider buying second hand, if it already exists. This way you don’t waste resources making another one. And it might be cheaper too.
- Consider doing a loan/swap of equipment with other centres in your community. Could they use your box and slide set for a term, and you get their outdoor items as a swap?
In the kitchen
- Keep your coffee grinds (from the plunger) and use them in your garden or worm farm. This will save you money on rubbish collection. It also helps your garden grow, and stops more waste going to the landfill.
- Think about buying seasonal and locally grown food. Supporting local businesses keeps them and your community thriving.
- Use your food scraps in your compost or worm farm.
- If you have a cook, have them buy in bulk quantities, recycle soft plastics, and organize the recycling. The earth will love you for it.
With your team
- For educators in New Zealand, check out enviro schools. Their aim is “to foster a generation of people who instinctively think and act sustainably”. They have a wealth of ideas and resources.
- Identify strengths within your team, and use these, e.g. the passionate recycler buys the bins because they will know what type you need and what size.
- Set up recycling stations in every space, make it super easy to use, and create an environment where children are encouraged to recycle. Talk about why you are making this change.
- Ask families and staff to bring a rubbish free lunch. Think beeswax wraps, instead of plastic wrap. Maybe a lunch box that has compartments – you could consider this as a fundraiser?
- Email your newsletter, or send it via Storypark, rather than printing. That being said, identify families that would rather have it printed and give that too. It’s important there are no barriers to your messages.
- Have a regular section in your newsletter with a sustainability tip for families to try at home.
- Be ‘The Spot’, have a recycling spot in your centre that families can use too. Could you provide a soft-plastic deposit spot and encourage families to bring their recycling to you? If you become the spot, then the profile of your centre within your community is lifted and there may be a flow-on effect for you.
- Have a swap out spot. An old fridge at my local supermarket holds books, with a ‘leave one- take one’ sign on it. Very cool! Consider this with families, children can choose a ‘new’ book on the way home, and take pride in choosing a book to donate in the morning. Swap out could also include items of clothing, footwear, and toys.
- How can you engage families, thus spreading your ideas and passion to the wider community?
- In what way are you modeling what you believe in? Do you walk the talk when it comes to sustainable practices?
- Do you recycle everything that can be recycled? If not, how can you make it easy to do so?
- Have you ever audited your centre and had a really hard look at how you could improve and become more sustainable?
Kath Cooper works for Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand. She is passionate about all things early childhood and issues of sustainability. Her recent research was on the visibility of gay early childhood teachers. She lives with her wife in Wellington and has four lovely children and three amazing grandchildren.