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Sustainability is a hot topic these days. I’m sure all of us have seen the green and sustainability stickers on products or heard about meat-free diets to help reduce our carbon footprint. But what about children? How can we encourage sustainable practices in the Early Years education sector?

From everyday actions to thought leadership, here are 5 ways you can bring sustainability into your playrooms.

Encourage creativity and resourcefulness

You don’t want to use single-use plastic in your activities? Not keen on the idea of wasting so much paper? What can you do instead? Just don’t use cling film, laminators or one-use water bottles, you don’t need to. Repair books and equipment with the children rather than just taking items away and throwing them or bringing them back repaired. When unpacking items from the scrap store or donations from parents explain where the items come from as an introduction to the circular economy and to community use of resources.

Learn about nature through play

Children need to get out and explore the world around them so they can better understand it and appreciate all that is available to them. There’s been a lot of buzz about bees recently. They’re disappearing and it’s up to all of us to do our part! We can help by planting flowers that encourage bees to pollinate, such as dandelions or lavender. It’s easy to plant these flowers. You can buy them at your local nursery or grow them from seed packets, and with the right tools encourage gardening in early years.  You might also be able to leave part of your garden un-mown to encourage the bugs and butterflies. Create Insect Houses to encourage bugs to feed and nest in your play area. A great addition to any playground, insect houses give children the opportunity to understand nature close up.

Participate in International Days

Participate in international days such as World Water Day or International Coastal Clean-up Day which promote natural world awareness by organising activities that the children can enjoy such as beach and park cleans and stories and discussions to help them understand the world that they live in.

Activities to encourage sustainability

Make a simple bag out of paper and then filling it with water. Children can enjoy this sensory experience by feeling the texture of the paper, squeezing the bag to see how much water they can make come out, and watching as their hand makes waves in the water. Sorting activities are a great way to introduce children to recycling. It’s important for them to learn what items go in which bin, and how we should treat the natural world responsibly. Another activity involves using an egg carton to scoop up sand from a bucket or sandbox, filling each section with dry rice grains, and shaking them together before dumping them back into the container again for repeated playtime fun!

These activities will help to reduce natural world impact from packaging production and disposal, as well as save money on disposable items.


Be a role model

It isn’t all about actions the children themselves take to become more sustainable. The easiest way to make an impact on your children’s lives is by modelling good behaviour! Simply talk about recycling or composting with them, or share some other simple steps you take every day that contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle such as walking or cycling to the nursery. By watching you have your sustainable practices, children will learn that any one of them is capable of making a change. As well as being a role model for children, share your knowledge with other educators on www.GECCO.org.uk and in any network meetings or conferences. Collective knowledge is important in developing our knowledge, building a community, creating awareness, and building confidence amongst a team. Many early years settings are implementing sustainability practices in their early year’s playrooms and gardens now. The goal is that these children will grow up to be adults who understand the importance of environmentalism and care for our planet.

We hope you will use these tips well and encourage sustainability in early years settings.


Author: Katie Murphy