Early childhood educators play an invaluable role in ensuring young children are active participants in living sustainably.
Experiences in the early years provide an opportunity for life strong learning, that our habits of future years will be influenced by the actions of those around us now who help us to see, to feel, to question and to value our world (NSW ECEEN, 2022)
Early childhood education for sustainability is understood to be 'a transformative and empowering process actively engaged in by children, families and educators who share an ecocentric worldview’ (Elliott, 2014). A holistic approach to early childhood EfS involves sustainable practices, people and pedagogy.
EE NSW aims to bring together interested people to instigate and implement early childhood education for sustainability (ECEfS) in early childhood settings, contact us if you are joining our early childhood working group.
EE NSW is supporting early childhood educators through:
- professional learning seminars and conferences
- good practice case studies
- advocacy and engagement in cross sectoral strategies.
Nature Play and Bush Kinder
Australian immersive nature play programs (INPPs), sometimes known as ‘bush kinder’ or ‘nature play’, are when children are provided with the opportunity to engage in child led and adult guided play in nature. A fundamental feature of INPPs is that children and educators spend long uninterrupted periods of time on a regular basis in natural settings outside the usual service. Some programs might prefer having children and educators in one designated space, while others might prefer that educators and children walk to a destination, with playful interludes along the way (Hughes et al., 2021). Children experience new ways of connecting with each other and nature.
There is a strong research base to support the benefits of play in nature for children. Cited benefits include the following; health and wellbeing; increased social, physical and language skills; increased motivation, concentration, creativity, resilience and confidence; deeper conceptual understandings and respect for the natural environment with early and meaningful connections perhaps leading to a stronger sense of sustainability later in life. Nature play also provides opportunities for children to connect in meaningful ways to First Nations Peoples perspectives and Western and Indigenous seasonal changes.
As part of the Take Me Outside NSW program, early childhood services shared their stories about how they were delivering immersive nature play programs. Every service and provider had a great story to tell, captured in these case studies.
- Bush School at Centennial Parklands
- Bush Preschool at Keiraville Community Pre School
- Nature Connections at Cullunghutti Aboriginal Child and Family Centre
- Nature Play Wednesday at Ngaarrila Preschool, Kalang
- Connecting with nature in the city, Explore & Develop Annandale
- Outdoor playgroup with Bush Balance
- Beyond the Kindy Gates with Paddington Childcare Centre
- ACECQA (2021) The legislative requirements of an in Nature program
- ACECQA (2021) The how and why of in Nature programs
- Centennial Parklands (2021) Nature Play for NSW: Insights and Recommendations
Recent research and literature
- Hughes, F., Elliott, S., Anderson. K. & Chancellor, B. (2022). Early years learning in Australian natural environments. Oxford University Press
- ACECQA articles, The Value of Outdoor Learning (2020), Exploring and Connecting with Nature (2016), Bush Kinder (2017) Beyond the Fence (2016)
- ABC Education, Bush Kinder: nature, wellbeing and resilience
- Department of Education & Training (VIC) Bush Kinders. Webpage includes information on planning, selecting a site, deliver a program.
- Cutter MacKensie et al (2021) Children learn science in nature play long before they get to school classrooms and labs, The Sector article.
- Child & Nature Research Library, Curated and summarised peer-reviewed scientific literature that makes the case for connecting children with nature, Children & Nature Network (USA).
- Learning through Landscapes, library of research that supports how enhanced outdoor learning and play benefits children and their environment (UK)
Take Me Outside: Gardening and Biodiversity in your service
NSW ECEEN have shared these case studies, developed as part of their EcoSmart program
Native Bee Hives: Balgownie & Hospital Hill
Sustainable Gardens: Bonnyrigg Heights, Janice Crosio ELC
Community Gardens: Cabramatta & Short St
Playground to Plate: Kids Uni, UOW
Tackling waste in your early childhood service
A professional learning support program Tackling waste in your early childhood service was delivered as part of the 2019 - 21 Midwaste Green Leaders program, supported by Return and Earn.
If you are an educator looking to refuse, reduce and reuse waste in your service, these online resources may be useful
- Return & Earn Curriculum Resources, Return & Earn & AAEE NSW
- Early Childhood Waste Wise Kit, North East Waste Forum
- Composting tips and ideas, Sustainable Schools NSW
- Recycling and upcycling ideas for early years, WOW SA
- Climbing the Little Green Steps Guide (pdf, manual from 2007),
Waste audit tools
- Sustainability Audit Tool, Community Child Care
- Waste Audit packs for child care centres, Toddle (pdf)
- Sustainability Audit Early Years, Cool Australia
- Waste Action Plan template, (see 'How to plan') Green Leaders & Sustainable Schools NSW
Disposable & cloth nappies
- Disposable baby nappies, the waste item we can avoid Coffs Waste Coast Conference presentation, 2021, Emma Aver
- Case study, Switching to environmentally friendly nappies at your ELC
- The Magic Lunchbox, Central Coast Local Health District
- EPA Bin TRIM Case studies
- ECEEN Eco Smart case studies: Reducing plastic waste Mt Ousley, Waste Reduction at Kindy Korner, War Against Plastic, Horsely Kids
Early Childhood Sustainability Education Networks
NSW Early Years Nature Connections
NSW Early Childhood Environmental Education Network: ECEEN evolved from an early childhood advisory group established by the NSW Environment Protection Authority in 2003 to support environmental education in the early childhood sector. This voluntary network was incorporated in 2007, bringing together interested people and organisations to promote the paramount importance of integrating environmentally sustainable education into all facets of young children’s lives. The network engaged in advocacy, support and delivered a range of sustainability projects and professional learning opportunities. In 2022, the network wound up and will now operate as a special interest group within Early Childhood Australia NSW. The work of ECEEN will continue via regional ECA groups.
Early Childhood Environmental Education, Victoria
Queensland Early Childhood Sustainability Network, Queensland
Early Education for Sustainability SA, South Australia
Little Green Steps WA, Western Australia
Sustainability Centre Hobart, Tasmania
Visit our online directory Sustainability Connect to find people that can support your sustainability education goals.