Sustainability in the Early Years and on Our Planet

I wish I could have attended COP26 and started a conversation about why small children need to be part of the solution to the sustainability issues facing us all.  Early Years is a natural starting point. The world has too many people and limited resources and we are using those resources carelessly and with no thought for the future.  That’s why we need to give our youngest citizens a voice.

Listening to the media at the moment, you would be forgiven for thinking that sustainability is climate change, but it is more complex than that.  Sustainability has three elements: economic, social and environmental care. Teaching and learning about sustainability means ensuring our Early Years colleagues understand what economic, social and environmental look like in a childcare, nursery or preschool setting. For example, economics touches on how we design childcare and education business operating models that provides services that are affordable and high quality so all children can access them. For example, how do we align this in an underfunded Early Years sector? We also need business operating models that use resources wisely, embeds fair employment practices and doesn’t add to in work poverty.

Socially we need to think about building inclusive settings. These should be underpinned by strong community networks that supports children, staff and parents to thrive and remain safe and act as local community catalysts that weaves a supportive network for parents – connecting people to family hubs and other local resources.

Finally, we can help support the environment by looking at how we operate so we can reduce our carbon footprint. We have loads of options including rethinking the way we use resources, reducing plastic waste, insulating our buildings, preserving water, protecting local wildlife, gardening, buying sensibly and purchasing local seasonal food, so we reduce deliveries.  The list is endless, and we can all start with small steps.

The press stories now sound angry and frustrated but that won’t change things for children.  We need a positive hopeful message that is shared and sustained by a network of Early Years colleagues – people with an ambition to think deeply about sustainability and embed it into their pedagogies. Education is the starting point. We can teach children good habits, the language of sustainability and partner with them to nudge positive changes to the behaviour of the adults around them to foster greater respect for the needs of a shared world. People often fail to realise just how much children understand but there is nothing so effective as a small voice reminding you not to drop litter or turn off the taps and to tread lightly on our shared planet.  Pester power is a powerful change agent!