Reducing waste and taking care of the environment has never been more important to lessen the effects of climate change and ensure future generations can continue to thrive. Every small bit can make a big difference and it's ideal for children to learn 'green' practices from an early age both at home and in an early childhood setting, so they become a standard way of life.
An early childhood centre that goes the extra mile in helping the environment with sustainable practices can also be a great point of difference in the eyes of both parents and staff members, and luckily there are lots of simple ways to do it.
The early childhood service paving the way
One Australian early childhood service that's certainly leading the way with sustainability and reduced carbon footprint is Clifton Street Children's Centre in Northcote, Victoria.
Some of the many environmentally friendly initiatives they have implemented over recent years include:
- Conducting a comprehensive sustainability audit to document their baseline practice and working with staff to determine where improvements could be made across all areas to 'green up' everyday practices.
- Installation of a large 15kW solar panel system on the roof of the centre and a new ultra-efficient electric hot water system, plus upgrades to their lighting from fluorescent tubes to LEDs.
- Switching to local suppliers for fruit and vegetables and switching to a green electricity supplier.
- Using Reverse Art Truck for all their arts and crafts supplies. Reverse Art Truck collects rejects, seconds and factory off cuts for distribution to schools and early childhood centres to reduce landfill and resources in creating new materials.
- Incorporating themes of sustainability into the teaching curriculum to help educate and inspire kids about the environment and their connection to it. Their staff teach kids that rubbish can't be truly thrown away – it has to end up somewhere!
As a result of their fantastic sustainability efforts, the centre was awarded a place in the Darebin Green Business Directory and in 2016 were invited to showcase their achievements at the Sustainable Darebin Expo.
According to Clifton Street Children's Centre, as well as positively contributing socially and environmentally, there is much to gain through implementing carbon reduction strategies. On the whole they believe there's a strong financial incentive for reducing resource usage, and that environmental sustainability initiatives also present important 'real life' educational opportunities for our children. They inspire and empower them at a young age to contribute towards a healthy and sustainable society and planet.
Additionally, they also believe that in being a 'green centre' with involvement from staff, committee members, children and families, they also provide themselves with common purpose and a point of difference that separates them from other centres.
How to be greener in your early childhood service
How can you increase the sustainable practices in your centre? It's a lot easier than you might think. Here are a stack of great tips and ideas for inspiration.
- Display posters and materials about the environment and include books with waste reduction and sustainability themes in story time.
- Ensure an effective recycling system is in place for bottles, paper, plastics and composting and engage the children in all areas.
- Set up a worm farm and have children take turns feeding food scraps to them.
- Use recyclable items and reuse materials wherever possible, such as boxes and paper for craft.
- Create a veggie garden that the children can help out in and that you can also harvest for use in kindy meals.
- Encourage children to use the half flush on the toilets, turn the tap off after washing their hands and to wear jumpers instead of turning on the heater.
- Discuss and educate about sustainable practices at home such as turning the tap off to brush your teeth, not wasting food and turning off lights and electronic devices when not required.
- Use environmentally friendly products in your centre.
- Ensure all educators are good role models for the children and practising green behaviours at all times e.g. recycling water from water play activities into the garden or opening a window instead of using air-conditioning.
- Take children on excursions to relevant locations such as the local community garden, reverse garbage centre, or waste recycling plant and go on nature walks.
- Discuss and research native wildlife and pets with the children so they understand the impact of human actions on other living creatures and know how to care for animals.
- Ensure rainwater tank water is used for water play and watering the garden.
- Consider installing solar panels and timer taps in bathrooms plus fix leaky taps.
- Use a washing line instead of dryer to dry cloths and other items.
- Engage children in environment themed games and other activities
- Sorting out waste items, what are they and which goes where.
- Making paint from bark or other plant life.
- Collecting natural items to create collages, craft and use in imaginative play.
- Participate in Clean Up Australia Day.
- Purchase more potted plants to have around the centre.
- Invite families to bring in old materials for craft purposes and be involved in sustainability discussions and activities.