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Green Childcare: Environmentalism in the Classroom

Classroom Development

2/24/2022 | Emily Jaeger

It’s never too early to teach kids about environmentalism. Studies have shown that greening the classroom not only helps toddlers and infants become environmental custodians but also contributes to their holistic development.

While outdoor preschools and nature preschools are entirely devoted to environmental education, this certainly isn’t for everyone. Not every child will succeed in an outdoors program and it doesn’t make sense for every childcare facility. You might have other priorities, financial restrictions, or limitations based on the physical attributes of your facility. The great news is, you don’t have to go “whole hog” to reap the benefits of greening your school or daycare.

Where to Start: Easy Green Solutions

As you begin to think about how to green your school or daycare, look for opportunities to make subtle changes, especially ones that are cost-effective. Is there a program or issue that you are passionate about such as school gardening or recycling? Is there something that would help reduce your overhead expenses like conserving electricity or implementing reusable plates for snack time? Could you rebrand an already existing program to emphasize its environmental impact? 

One-off events, programs, or activities are a great way to start because they don’t require much organizational restructuring. Celebrate environmental holidays like Arbor Day, Earth Day, or the Jewish New Year of the Trees: Tu Bishvat with art projects, storytime, or tree planting.

Rebrand your annual used clothing drive or winter coat donation box as an environmental issue. The fashion industry is responsible annually for 53 million metric tons of discarded clothing. You can work with your families to make a huge environmental impact (and also clean up stressful clutter) by repurposing gently used clothes--not to mention helping families in need.

When in doubt, make it a game. Introduce environmental custodianship by having learners compete for most pieces of trash picked up from the playground. Or conserve electricity with a “Let it Shine Week,” to see which class can clock the most hours using natural light instead of electricity.  

Scaffolding Environmental Education

Even with these small changes, it is important to make a big stink. Or what we educators like to call “scaffolding.” For 2s and up, add an energy monitor or “earth patrol” to the mix of classroom jobs to be in charge of turning off lights (or reminding the teacher) when the class leaves the room. If you decide to implement reusable plates or cups in the classroom or any other daily changes, teachers should talk about it with learners and incorporate it into lesson plans. 

Storytime is also a great tool for introducing concepts of environmentalism in a way that is fun and age-appropriate. Publishers Weekly and Book Riot are two awesome sites (out of many) that have compiled lists of environmental books for kids with capsule reviews and defined age ranges. The selections cover a range of topics to match with classroom activities: recycling and waste management, climate change, animal extinction, and more. 

In addition to scaffolding sustainability for your learners, it is important to spread the good news to parents and prospective families. Make sure your staff share kid’s projects, recorded reactions, and photos from these holidays on their classroom bulletins and parent newsletters. 

Parents should be hearing from the mouth of (their) babes about environmental sustainability on the ride home and/or in weekly announcements. Not to mention, environmental competitions and projects also make great press releases. 

Environmental Education Series

The Playground blog is excited to offer our upcoming series Young Sprouts which will dive a bit deeper into incorporating environmentalism into early childcare year-round from “how to talk to preschoolers about recycling” to vermiculture in the classroom. Environmentalism can intersect and be interpreted through the lens of every educational discipline from art to engineering. And it empowers children to be agents for change in the classroom and their wider communities. Let’s raise the next generation to make the environment better for all!

Emily Jaeger is a professional writer with a background in education (she's taught every age group from preschool to retirement). Her writing has been featured on Parents Magazine, Kveller, Motherfigure and more. You can connect with Emily via her website emilyjaeger.com, or on instagram @soulinparaphrase. 

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