The latest news, views and reviews for Australia's child care industry. February 19, 2013
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Environmental education for kids in care

Teaching children to have respect and appreciation for our natural environment is an important part of early childhood education.

Many child care services take pride in offering a range of experiences designed to enhance learning and understanding about environmental awareness and sustainability and increasingly parents are looking for services which have an eco-friendly business model.

Child care service providers have a unique opportunity to offer young children environmental experiences and to instill in them a love for the natural world.

If you are looking for some new ways to help children learn about and experience the environment then keep reading…

  • Irrespective of the amount of space you have, provide internal and external environments which include a variety of plants and animals. Introduce a fish tank and pot plants inside and encourage the children to help establish and care for the new arrivals. Space dependant consider establishing a vegetable patch, a worm farm or a native bird feeder to promote a range of experiences and learning opportunities.
  • Where possible use natural materials to set up play areas, wooden barriers, pebbles and bark make great natural dividers and are much more attractive than plastic. Twigs and leaves also make interesting items to paint with and can be used as adornments in play dough creations.
  • Encourage children to go treasure hunting in the yard for leaves, seeds, twigs, feathers, snail shells bark and other natural objects to use for collage and sorting games. Treasure hunts can also be used to identify and learn about insects and birds and what role they play. Remember to teach children about the correct way to handle insects and living creatures, teach about looking not touching and about the importance of respecting natural life.
  • Use recycled and homemade play equipment in combination with manufactured resources, for example, recycled milk bottles for sand scoops, discarded pots and pans for home corner and dramatic play areas, cards, bottle tops and old CDs to make mobiles to hang in trees. Reusing items teaches children about the importance of recycling and helps them invent new ways of using familiar household items.
  • Encourage children to use all their senses outside by playing 'I Spy' and 'I hear' type games. Interactive games like these encourage children to really focus on their natural environment and to look at things in a whole new way.
  • Facilitate spontaneous natural learning experiences by creating teaching opportunities initiated by the environment. For example if the kids spot a butterfly or a kookaburra or a brightly coloured flower take the opportunity to hold a discussion about the item, consider following through in the art corner or looking for a story about the particular subject at hand. Seasonal experiences such as hail, buds in spring and leaves falling in autumn are also useful catalysts.
  • Promote knowledge about sustainability by creating opportunities for children to involve themselves in small actions which make a difference, such as encouraging them to independently participate in service recycling programs, save fruit and vegie waste for worms and encourage children's involvement in new environmental initiatives.
  • Ask families to contribute items such as old magazines, greeting cards, bottle tops, cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes and so on to be used for craft activities. Up-cycling these unwanted household items into precious pieces of art offers kids a multi faceted learning experience.

Supporting Staff in Environmental Education

For environmental education to be successful staff need to be able to access resources and training to effectively and confidently implement service initiatives. Staff engagement and consistent application of service principles are vital elements in successfully getting the message through to kids.

If you are looking to expand your environmental teaching and the range of natural experiences available to children then it is crucial to obtain staff buy in. You can achieve this by:

  • Developing a small environmental resource centre for staff within the service. Books, magazines and literature on current environmental concerns in the wider world will help staff stay on top of current thinking. Books on native plants, animals, insects and birds may also be helpful for identifying visitors to the yard.
  • Conducting professional development days for staff with a specific interest in environmental education and for the staff more widely on environmental operating practices and sustainability.
  • Inspiring staff to engage children in environment focused learning through the provision of new teaching resources, toys and books.
  • Seeking staff opinion on new environmental initiatives and taking the opportunity to regularly review current practices.

Environmental Experiences in Child Care by Lauren Boyle, Extract from Putting Children First published by the NCAC

How do you promote environmental awareness in your service? Spill the beans below…
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