children playing in trees

Sustainability – without the sadness

children climbing trees

With recent research finding that children’s relationships with nature are complex, and that feeling a strong sense of connection to nature can also generate negative emotions linked with environmental issues such as climate change, educators are faced with a dilemma – how to educate for a changing world, without upsetting children about the world they stand to inherit?  

Speaking to children about complex environmental issues such as drought, fires, and climate change needs to be done in a delicate way, which educates without overwhelming. 

Early childhood expert, Dr Sue Elliot, has said that at the heart of all sustainability education needs to lie the concept that change is possible. These changes can be small – such as turning off the lights when we leave a room – but, when added together, create a movement which has a big impact. 

There are many ways that children can be involved in contributing to their world and acting for a more sustainable future, including:  

  • Using recyclable materials where possible. 
  • Encouraging children to use half flush on the toilets, 
  • Encouraging children to turn the water off when they have washed their hands, 
  • Encouraging children to recycle paper and rubbish within their rooms, at home and when in the wider community, 
  • Talking with the children about electricity and encouraging them to turn off lights, 
  • Educating children in the natural decomposition cycle through exposure and participation in worm farms and composting food scraps, 
  • Educating children and having them participate in ‘garden to plate’ activities i.e. seed sprouting, weeding, vegetable gardens, cooking amongst other activities, 
  • Educating children in how to care for pets and letting them actively participate in caring for the Centre pet, 
  • Educating children on caring for plants and our waterways i.e. recycling water etc 

Children can also take part in attending rallies or protests, writing to local members about issues, or inviting members of the community into their settings to view sustainability in action.  

Helping children to take appropriate action in response to sustainability concerns can help them to feel less helpless and hopeless. Actions taken in response to children’s concerns about sustainability need to be age-appropriate, practical and achievable, and ideally, help them to see the impact of their decisions.  

Further resources:
Child Australia – Climbing the little green steps 
Early Childhood Australia – Early childhood environmental education – making it mainstream 
Shellharbour Council – A sustainability resource kit for educators