Thoughts on Why and How to Promote Sustainable Practices in Early Years Education

Thoughts on Why and How to Promote Sustainable Practices in Early Years Education

Hazel R. Wright (Anglia Ruskin University, UK), Paulette Luff (Anglia Ruskin University, UK) and Opeyemi Osadiya (Anglia Ruskin University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2503-6.ch015
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It is important to introduce ideas and practices to encourage young children to act sustainably so that this becomes habitual and continues in adulthood. An examination of global developments for environmental action provides a context for a more specific focus on work in early years contexts, which, it is noted, most commonly originates in Australia and Scandinavia. The UK is active but lagging behind their lead, relying on pockets of activity in certain university and nursery centres. Noting, also, a need to train staff to teach young children sustainable behaviours, how this can be done is illustrated through an action research project that helped a playgroup to establish a wildlife garden where children could learn about and care for plants and animals. Returning to the broader global picture, the chapter concludes by stressing the need for joint adult-child action to protect the planet in/on which all humans live.
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In 2018, Wright, Luff and Emre, wrote about the benefits of reclaimed resources in children’s play, relating this to practice through an earlier small-scale exploratory study into sustainable play in Early Years settings in the East of England. The chapter (Wright, Luff, & Emre, 2018) demonstrated a universal need for staff development on Education for Sustainability (ESD) and the need for further detailed research into how this might be brought about “widespread training is needed to raise staff awareness of ESD and to develop practices; and future research projects could usefully be designed to determine the most effective approaches to employ” (p. 176).

The training needed to be implemented in ways that were supportive of both staff and children; ideally using approaches that enabled practitioners to extend existing levels of knowledge, competence and confidence in instilling sustainable practices in everyday life. Opeyemi took on this challenge, undertaking three years of systematic action research with a local playgroup to develop and trial a methodology that, through its very flexibility, might itself be sustainable as it had the capacity to change to fit other times and contexts. Elements of this work are offered as a case study to amplify the general discussion of how best to further sustainable practices within education. We hold that focusing in depth on a single project better enables us to link the theoretical constructs we believe relevant to a real-world context. It enables us not only to examine what the children are doing and how they benefit from these activities but to understand why this might be the case, thereby enabling an element of generalisation from one study, as it was characterised by a series of ‘thick descriptions’ of events observed (Geertz, 1973).

The chapter starts by examining the more general frameworks that point towards the importance of sustainable play in early childhood education and draws briefly on research initiatives already published to see what has been done in similar and other contexts, recognising that this is an issue of global importance and that much can be learned from colleagues overseas whether within Europe or further afield. These initiatives are important to both the present and future survival of the human race on planet earth. All qualified Early Years (EY) educators should be ever mindful that the children of today are the adults of tomorrow and that good EY teaching has the capacity to help remodel the world through generational change. It is vital to find ways to encourage sustainable values and practices at a young age so that children become environmentally aware before they slide unthinkingly into materialistic lifestyles.

Then Opeyemi presents the context for her research and some of the activities found to be successful when working alongside practitioners and the young children in their care, offering selected photographs that clearly reveal the interest of the children involved. Finally, the chapter draws together the various themes to offer further suggestions for progress in ESD.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Three Pillars or Dimensions of Sustainability: The three inter-linked areas of sustainability: economic viability, environmental protection and social equity.

OMEP (Organisation Mondiale pour l’Education Prescolaire): The World Organisation for Early Childhood Education: an international non-governmental, non-profit organisation, that is established in over 78 countries and promotes the rights of children aged from birth to eight years to high quality education and care.

Action Research: A cyclical approach to enquiry that involves taking positive action for change, gathering evidence about the action and reflecting critically upon processes and outcomes.

Education for Sustainable Development: The learning and teaching of skills, knowledge, values and attitudes that will enable people to take action for sustainable development.

Anthropocene: The age of humans, the period of time since humans have begun to have an impact upon the environment of planet earth.

Sustainable Development Goals: A collection of 17 universal global goals that were adopted by all UN member states in 2015 as a call to action to work towards peace and prosperity for people and planet by 2030.

Sustainable Development: Growth that remains within environmental limits and does not pollute or deplete natural resources.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): In the year 2000 the 191 member states of the United Nations (UN) agreed to work towards eight goals by 2015 that included commitments to eradicate extreme poverty and to achieve improvements in a number of areas of public health.

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