Making a difference to their world

Each year the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch offers its Teachers Mutual Bank Environment Grants to a selection of winning entrants to develop a green project at their school or centre.

In 2019, three of the six winning entries were from the early childhood sector, including Old Bar Preschool, KU Pymble and Uniting St Luke’s Preschool Belmont North.

KU Pymble teacher Catherine Atherton explains what the grant means to her centre.

“KU West Pymble has always been interested in environmental issues, especially sustainability. This year, we enjoyed being part of a pilot project initiated by KU Children’s Services called Becoming Eco Smart within KU, an education for sustainability program for children/families and educators,” Atherton said.

Applying for the IEU Environment Grant gave our centre another opportunity to extend our passion for sustainability.

Embedding sustainability

“The aim of this project was to embed sustainability into our pedagogy and practice. A mentor was appointed to each centre to guide the process. The involvement and commitment of families and children has been integral to its success,” Atherton said.

“One significant feature of this approach is that the children are actively consulted within our program about decisions which impact the environment. In this way, they can see that they have a voice and agency, that they are able to make a difference to their world.

“Some projects this year included an analysis (through making a daily tally with the children over a few weeks) of how much soft plastic was being brought to preschool with the children’s morning tea and lunches, with the goal of reducing it as much as possible, and ideally eliminating the need for it altogether.

Red cycle

“As a result, we have created a separate soft plastics bin which is recycled through ‘red cycle’ rather than ending up in landfill. The children are responsible for taking this to the supermarkets which have the red cycle bin. Obviously, it would be better if no soft plastics were bought to preschool at all. However, in the meantime, the children are making sure that it does not end up in landfill.

“The preschool has many features which encourage sustainable living. For example, we feed our chickens with our food scraps and they repay us with eggs! We also have a compost bin and a worm farm. We do enjoy gardening, so we use the worm castings and juice and compost to help our veggies grow! We also bottle this with the children to sell to the families.

“We also have a native beehive and the bees do a great job helping to pollinate the bushland surrounding preschool. We go for regular walks ‘out the gate’ to explore the local bush.

“These visits have stimulated much thought about the importance of the interrelationships between people and the natural environment.

“The children have also designed their own plan to landscape the front entrance of preschool, where instead of sticking to the path, foot traffic has destroyed the grass.

Water play

“The area has turned to dust and looks ‘unloved’. It has even attracted a vandal element, as there has been evidence of a bonfire being lit in the dirt there.

“Applying for the IEU TMB Environment Grant gave our centre another opportunity to extend our passion for sustainability. We have always wanted to install a dry creek bed with a tap for the children to enjoy another form of water play.

“However, with the dreadful drought, we were very conscious of not wasting water. The possibility of a grant prompted us to think about water and sustainability.

“How could we minimise water wastage with a water course? Maybe by recirculating or recycling it! To do this, we would need a pump. Thinking with a lens of sustainability, wouldn’t it be fantastic to harness the energy from the sun to power the pump?

“Therefore, we came up with the idea to create a solar powered recycled water course, for which we won the grant.

Wonderful example

“We are so excited to think that the finished product will be a wonderful example to the children of how we can use a renewable resource to create electricity and minimise water wastage at the same time.

“We have a responsibility to the children in our care to help them see what other possibilities there are for taking good care of our planet, especially at a time when climate change is such a concern.

“The children we are educating at the moment are the ones growing up needing to innovate in diverse ways to ensure the survival of our planet.”