The Story of Sustainability
Sustainability is a part of the Swedish preschool curriculum... it is also an important part of our shared future on this planet of ours... images of Wall:e sometimes come into being as I think about sustainability and we consume... I include the trailer for those who have never watched the film abut how mankind left earth because it was overrun by rubbish and left it to the robots to clean it up...
So in our quest to create a sustainable preschool and teach sustainability to the children (for the sake of all our futures) we need to ask the question "process at all costs?" By this I mean, I have seen experiences for children online where I question the sustainability of the activity... I am all for the concept of process over product... but surely we need to be thinking of the products we are using in those processes... Process not Product Its the process not the product that matters The above are two posts that discuss this idea of process and product - the latter from the early days of this blog and the first a recent post. They are both found on my old blog location... and will eventually find their way to this site. I have seen, in various countries around the world, an activity that uses cling-film (plastic wrap, or however you call it) wrapped around an inverted table legs for children to paint on - I have made the decision not to include an image but an example can be viewed here... In fact this VERY example became the start of an amazing dialogue about our responsibility as teachers to use materials sustainably you can see full dialogue here (you might just need to sign up to the Reggio Emilia Approach facebook group to do so though... and if you do, please answer the questions as you will be included much faster that way into the group) the original post in the group was written as below
I was criticized (in a nice way)for the attached post and so glad that I was! After seeing a viral video of children painting on cling plastic, on an upside down table, it bothered me that so many people are now offering the same experience and being wasteful! I realized then, that we are responsible for what we post on social media because others may follow! Our alternative: we hung a huge plastic vinyl in our playground where the children can paint everyday. The children loved it and do choose to paint on it everyday! But soon I realized that we are wasting water -everyday! Paper would be the same. We are a school that supports recycling and highly values recycled materials. We also support the exposure to new experiences. These toddlers paint everyday, on different surfaces. The attached post was not an art project but more of an experience with paint and magnets. I saw the cling plastic being used but did not say anything...but wait, at home, everyone throws away the cling paper after its first use, so what’s the difference if it’s still being used but for a different purpose? So how do we support creative experiences without being wasteful? Are certain art materials less wasteful than others? Are you mindful of the materials being used? Please share your thoughts.
Having been in Jenin during the last 2 weeks and seen the high level of single use materials in everyday routines and the way that the plastic and waste is just thrown onto the street without a second thought has made me even more sensitive to the materials we choose to us. Also my work with Gästrikevatten (Gästrike Water Authority) has made me think much more about this too from the perspective of how do we keep our water clean. I will include a few quotes from the dialogue as a way to reflect... as they have given me food for thought, taught me new things and triggered my own reflections...
Does the learning justify the waste???
This idea that the learning justifies the waste came up several time in the dialogue. But my question is, can the same experience be offered in another, more sustainable, way? If so, should we not be doing that instead?
The intention is what's important. Instead of focusing on "should I be using plastic", you can go back to your original intention - "What is the experience I want the children to have?" and then brainstorm different materials you could use for that purpose. If you want children to experience painting or using magnets on a transparent surface, start thinking of transparent surfaces, it doesn't have to be disposable plastic wrap.
Of course brainstorming requires time... do all educators get the time they need to reflect responsibly, or is the age of pinterest and facebook images too much of a temptation that we just follow without questioning?
Informed and intentional choices are a must as we try to send “the right” message to young minds.
Informed choices are what I strive after at all times... for myself and also for the children I work with... so if they were to see an activity that used this quantity of cling-film then I feel it is my responsibility to inform them of similar alternatives and the various impacts they all have.
I often have to remind myself "it's not wasting if they're using it". If they are using the materials and learning from it is it really a waste? Sometimes we use lots of tape, or glue, or water, but the children are learning from the experience. Plus they see you recycling and conserving water in other ways and you can talk to them about it and teach them the values and importance of conservation.I think there's some different issue of "waste" that are being talked about. One is using a lot of material in a way that adults don't typically value it - for instance, "wasting" tape. Another is the issue of the impact of "wasting" that material. Creating a transitory experience using material that will end up in a landfill, is a different issue than using materials that are compostable, or that may be used multiple times before reaching a landfill. The use of a resource can also be considered "waste" depending on the scarcity of that item. Water play in a geographic area that is experiencing drought is wasteful - a precious resource required for life is being diverted for a transitory experience that is less important than people having access to drinking water. But in another geographic area where water is plentiful, it might not seem as wasteful. I think it is a reasonable thing to think about - how can we create meaningful experiences for children while being conscientious of scarcity of resources and environmental impact?
We need to reflect, to take the time, to explore materials and understand the impact they have on nature, and also on our own health. Many plastics are being removed from preschools due to their harmful impact of the growing body... cling-film is made from PVC, one of the plastic types that is being removed from preschools in Sweden - so it seems rather odd that we actively usea plastic we are being asked to avoid due to the impact it has on the growing body (particularly hormones). So this is NOT just about are we wasting materials, but also about how do the materials impact the children we work with and also impact the planet afterwards... cling-film cannot be recycled, this means the chemicals in the plastic are leaching into our planet and water supply for years and years once it is in the landfill.
I think that if we are to be responsible leaders and educators, we have to be conscious of the impact that our practice has on children and other adults...adding to your blog from yesterday (one of my posts about our responsibility of what we share in the Reggio Emilia Approach FB group): ideas that are shared on social media, what we like, pictures that we choose to post, even what we don’t comment on, does have an impact on our world. When someone questions our work, thoughts, pictures, comments...it’s a gift to us as it gives us the opportunity to grow. In this case, the question of cling film has brought on a discussion to help us brainstorm ideas so that we can in turn, be conscious of the materials that we use within our settings.
So our responsibility maybe is not just to the children we work with, but also to others... I have seen this activity with plastic wrap in Sweden USA and Palestine without looking for the activity... it just popped into my feed... I live close to where Alfred Nobel had his dynamite factory... it is a short walk to see his test sites for the explosive material... His intention with dynamite was to prevent death... he also believed that with a weapon that was so destructive no armies would go against each other... that there would be peace... He regretted sharing his invention... as have other scientist... it always makes me think about how we need to be responsible for what we share - to think about the whole story... to see how other think, to consider possible impacts. Sure dynamite and cling-film are not at all in the same category... but this is how my mind works... using the concept of responsibility of what we share with others... especially when some "others" do not take any responsibility - or regard for the planet/human life. We all need to reflect on what we share... we also should reflect on what is being shared.
My thoughts on this are kind of a pick your battles/weigh the benefits approach. People like doing things that they can physically see make a difference, regardless of if it actually makes a difference or not. An example would be recycling paper. People do it because they feel like they're making a difference but in reality, the energy it takes and pollution produced to recycle a stack if paper is far more than the energy and pollution from making fresh paper, plus the lumber industry in this country is all farmed trees and they plant more than they cut down. But that's not something you can see in your every day life, so it gets ignored for what SEEMS like the better option. Another example is reducing paper use is great you can cut your paper into halves or quarters and have the kids use that instead if whole sheets or butcher paper. But when you do that you limit their creative space and hinder children that don't yet have the fine motor skills to write in such a small space. So for me, the benefit of using big paper outweighs the negatives. I think art is similar. First you have to look at what is actually being used/wasted. If you're concerned about water use, I suggest looking into agricultural practices, giving up eating meat and petitioning for agriculture to start using water wise practices because that's where the majority of water waste is and will make a bigger difference than depriving children of an experience. But there are also ways to clean up while using less water, they're just going to take longer. Like use a bucket and sponge instead of spraying down an area. You're not using much water at all. Then you can weigh the benefits of the experience vs the materials being used. Also, not everything has to be done every day. If a paint project like this uses too much materials for you, then make it a sometimes project. I also think, in general with all things, we need to look at the word waste vs use. If you just leave a hose running on the ground for no reason, then you're wasting water. If you use the hose to fill a water table, then you're using the water. Same goes for classroom materials and supplies. I've seen so many teachers "save their good supplies" because they don't want them to get wasted and then the supplies just sit in a cabinet forever, never getting used. Using something for a purpose isn't wasteful, it's just using it.
I appreciated this part of the dialogue to add balance - we need to think about where in the world we are, what is our context, and how we are impacting the world with our actions. it also shows that we all want to be seen to be doing the right thing... even when we do not fully understand what the right thing is. Working with the water authority I have learned a lot about how a little bit does make a difference... as there were some comments that leaned towards well in the grans scheme of things its just a little bit... but lots of snowflakes can make an avalanche... it kind of has the snowball effect... its just to look at the kilometres wide plastic islands floating in the sea to see that we are having an impact on the planet that we are blind to.. check out the blow film... one of many you can find about the impact plastic has on the planet... and how long it is being a problem... Or watch the latest series of David Attenborough's Blue Planet to see the impact it has on wildlife. And this is not where it ends... there are teeny tiny microplastics, not visible to the naked eye all the time, that are floating in our waters, and almost impossible to clean up... so basically we are now drinking plastic infused water!
We need to think of the product from start to finish... as the below quote states...
I think more than just being wasteful, we should consider what had to happen to get the product. I’m assuming the manufacturing of the plastic wrap is worse for the environment than manufacturing paper. We try to reuse stuff for art. I get a lot of donations and find stuff at thrift stores. If the item already exists, it seems less wasteful than buying new.
We must take the time to think about the learning processes... what processes are we actually offering... why these processes... and can they be done in a more sustainable way? Of course we need to bring wonder into the lives of children... but wonder can be offered in many ways... we need to think about this wonder, and the importance of the wonder... is it just an event or is it the start of something... why this wonder and not another?
I think if we start analyzing what the experience actually is then it might make it easier to work out if it is waste or use???
I think sometimes there is so much focus on offering children an experience we forget to analyze what that experience is and what learning it can offer - and then through documentation and observations see what learning actually happened so the experience can be expanded upon
As the below statement shares... one of the properties of cling-film is its transparency... there are other materials to explore this that are more sustainable or can be re-used or recycled.
The fascinating property about cling plastic and similar materials is that they're transparent. To be more environmentally conscious, instead of using new materials, reuse. I use the trimming from laminator paper to paint on or draw with sharpies. Stores often use shrink wrap around goods that are shipped on pallets - you could ask local stores if they could save it for you. There's plenty of plastic out there, and better to use it as much as possible before it's thrown out.
I have done activities that others have asked me about the sustainability of - one of them being swinging with paint as seen in the film below
Quite a lot of paint was used... and I had been putting it off for years because I was concerned about paint usage... but then decided that the children were exploring movement and that this was a great way to do that... all the paintings that we created on this day were used in other ways as we continued to use the paper and colour to create yet more art from the art exploration. So in other words this one day of paint usage supported two more months of learning where the paper was being actively used and reused. It was my conscious decision about what we were doing and how it impacted nature... the children were a part of these thoughts - of why we re-used the paper as background and to cut out etc rather than just taking fresh new paper. As a final thought... when you see an image on social media think about the following
The image shows the product and we are not privy to the process
You , as an educator have the responsibility to think about the process... and how that would look for the children you work with. You have the responsibility to work out why you are choosing this activity and not another. You have the responsibility to think about the impact the materials have on our earth and whether or not you prioritise a sustainable approach to learning and play. You have the responsibility to consider the impact the materials have on the growing child. You have the responsibility to understand the learning and the benefits. You need to take a risk assessment... are the risks worth the learning benefits? Is the margin wide enough to justify using a single use material? they might be... I am not saying that they are ALWAYS wrong... what I am saying is that we need to think about what materials we choose, and what activities we offer children.