• Suzanne Axelsson

Why the ECE needs to think sustainably...

I have found myself more and more frequently commenting in groups for education, early years, play and art about the sustainability of the materials and choices that we make,

Far too frequently I am met with resistance.

So I feel compelled to write a post.

What I am trying to do is to start a dialogue, invite reflection and help us all make informed choices about the materials and experiences we offer. I am certainly not trying to say, don't do that, don't use that... what I want to encourage is that we instead reflect on the impact of the choices we make, can the same/similar experience be offered with a more sustainable impact? No-one should feel bad for doing the best they can - but on the other hand, maybe you should if you are not even trying...

I would also like to point out that sustainability is not just about ecology - it also includes economics and social interactions.

So for it to be sustainable it needs to be affordable, doable and minimal negative impact on the environment.

Sometimes it all comes together, the social interactions, the economics and knowledge of how to protect the environment enables us to make choices that are as sustainable as they can be, and that area that includes all three is as large as you possibly can make it (see diagrams below).

Other times, though, it can be that your finances do not allow you to be as sustainable as you want to be, or that there is not the social capability, or there is lacking knowledge in how to be sustainable in your region - and this will impact the outcome, but the reflection is constantly there about how to improve the social status quo so that it does work, how to gain more knowledge to be able to make informed decisions, and finding out about what is affordable, within budget or grants and other schemes available that can help on the financial side of things.

The problem is when there is no desire to learn, no desire to change and no desire to invest the money that exists into wiser choices because profits come first, or some kind of stubbornness or ignorance entitles them to continue as usual.

So when I make suggestions it's coming from a place of how can we sustainably change? I am aware that in different places in the world the social, economic and ecological situation will be different.

Those of us who can afford it, need to make the biggest changes on behalf of those who cannot yet.

But it is so much more than this...

Our very reflective process of how to choose materials so that they are sustainable

(can be used over a long period of time, many times, for multiple uses, can be recycled or up-cycled - also requires that the people working with these materials respect them, know how to take care of them, know how to recycle them etc - and why)

is also incredibly important. Children will learn from us that there are choices to be made, that it is not just all about them and their experience, but about well-being together with nature. That we are helping children to unlearn the consumerism (buy and throw away) that seems to have a firm grip on massive chunks of the world, and enable them to appreciate what they have and make informed choices.

This includes natural loose parts... we cannot just go into nature and plunder. We need to consider that everything is part of the ecosystem (ourselves too) and that this stuff is food, home building materials, safe places to hide, future nutrient rich soil, future trees and plants etc.. We take only what we need

and we take the time to explain all of this. In spring I prevent children from picking dandelions - despite their massive desire to pick them. They are the first food for bees. When dandelions become more plentiful, we then pick a few, knowing our need for them, but leave more for the bees/nature than we pick.

When the children tell me what they need the dandelions for I sometimes give them alternative options to meet that need, and I have found that since I started doing this, most children actually pick the alternative. The alternatives have included, taking photographs to show their parents, bringing out pens/paint and paper to draw the flower to give as a present.

And when the dandelions are seeding we make sure we blow many many wishes to ensure there are lots of dandelions for us the following year. Dandelion tea or jelly, feeding the bunnies dandelions - all of this we continue to do as a way to learn about how the ecosystem provides. We don't have to have a LOT of stuff in order to offer children amazing experiences. My travels around the world have shown me settings full of stuff and virtually devoid of stuff.

What I found to be the most important resource was the relationships between the individuals... children and adults.

We don't all have access to large areas of nature, we don't all have fancy resources, we don't all get to be outside as much as we would like... but what we can all do -

is strive to be as sustainable as possible in our own context.

That means seeking out information about what materials damage, harm, or are eco-friendliest, so that we make the best informed decisions we can. We seek out more information about the environment in our own local area and what strategies of water management, energy management etc can have the best impact

because it is not just about what we do now.

I know that everything that we do are like tiny steps when really it is the leaders, companies and massive corporations that need to be taking strides towards change. BUT our efforts are being seen by the children and parents we work with; they make a difference as we slowly and respectfully help children to grow up with sustainability being at the core of their being,

of knowing how to reflect,

respect and value not only nature,

but the food they eat,

their homes,

the activities they engage in, and

each other.

We become the role-models that this world desperately needs to survive the necessary changes that future generations will have to make.

And if the climate crisis does not get treated as a crisis, and the worst come to the worst and resources become scarce for multiple reasons, and migration, even within large countries, becomes a pandemic because crops fail to grow, drought, floods etc - then we are going to need a whole heap of social sustainability to survive that - to create community as the Traditional Knowledge from most Indigenous peoples have used to thrive instead of a survival of the fittest that consumerism seems to be based on. It's not about making everyone the same... it is about valuing everyone with respect. And when it comes to sustainability that means the planet too.

In the Original Learning Approach, reflecting about sustainability is an essential tool in designing spaces, activities and providing resources for play, learning, teaching and understanding.

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