Enabling Environments

How to create an eco-friendly early learning environment

  • How to create an eco-friendly early learning environment

Save the world while you teach! It’s never too early to encourage eco-friendly habits – here’s how Sarah Watkins is turning her setting green…

When my teaching friend proudly showed me the real leaves she had laminated, I lectured her on the importance of creating a sustainable future for the children we teach.

However, on reflection, I realised that I was not exactly a saint in terms of ‘greening’ my classroom. So, I reached out to Julian Thomas, head at Georgeham Primary School in Devon, the first school to be awarded ‘plastic-free’ status, and he very kindly shared his school’s approach with me.

I conducted an audit and enlisted the help of my Reception pupils. When presented with ‘eco problems’, they amazed me with their thoughtful responses. We created a ‘Green Mantra’, which is displayed in class. Below are the four areas that I focused on… 

1 | Reduce negative impact

I’m trying to kick my laminating habit. For example, display lettering doesn’t need laminating.

Also, I’ve started to put names on wood slices for cloakroom pegs. It makes a great gift to go home at the end of the year.

Document and bookmark sleeves work well for resources. ‘Think before you print’ has become a mantra, and switching to Tapestry for assessment has significantly cut down on my printing.

Paper is now used on both sides. Glue sponges last much longer than glue sticks (and you don’t have to hunt down lids!). Biodegradable glitter is just as good as the more-damaging version and is now a reasonable price.

Around 40,000,000 whiteboard pens are thrown into landfill each year, so recycling or filling pens is vital.

After discussing in class the impact of using too many paper towels and running the taps for too long, positive changes have been made.

If you are able to have hand dryers, even better! Employing children to be ‘energy police’ is an effective strategy. They switch off lights and monitors at lunchtime and shut doors to keep the heat in.

If you can, try to ensure that cleaning products are natural and eco-friendly. Finally, meat-free days for cooked meals help to achieve sustainability. 

2 | Manage waste

We now put organic waste from snack time into a small composting box in the classroom and transfer the contents to a larger compost bin outside.

We’ve also set up a classroom waste-recycling centre. My class loudly and excitedly remove any recyclable materials from the bin! My next step is to have recycling bins in the lunch hall.

Our local scrapstore offers the kind of safe, reusable waste from businesses that would make any EYFS teacher clap their hands in delight.

Find your nearest one at reusefuluk.org/scrapstores-directory.

3 | Connect with the natural world

Although this part of my ‘greening’ journey is taking longer to implement, I feel it’s important to surround pupils with natural materials.

For example, using sponges, twigs, wooden scoops and pebbles in the sand. We sow seeds and grow bee-friendly plants, using rainwater to nourish them.

If you’re really short on space, consider a succulent wall (succulents are virtually indestructible!) We are lucky to have a fantastic forest school area that attracts minibeasts and other creatures, and a next step for us is a wormery.

Some schools successfully keep chickens and even bees, but you need to consider allergies.

4 | Provide an eco education

We did a term’s topic recently on the picture book Someone Swallowed Stanley. The author, Sarah Roberts, is happy to connect with children’s settings and she kindly answered questions via video link.

Yuval Zommer is another author who responds quickly via Twitter and produces beautifully illustrated eco books.

Many organisations such as Greenpeace will give free talks. The Marine Conservation Society brought a huge inflatable turtle when they visited, which elicited a collective gasp from my class!

Looking at my practice from an eco perspective has prompted me to make positive changes and I’m really excited about the journey that my class and I have embarked upon.

Sarah Watkins is a Reception teacher at Ledbury Primary School.