Enabling Environments

Why we must teach children the wonders of our world

  • Why we must teach children the wonders of our world

Future generations will have to be our planet’s protectors, so let’s show them what it’s got, says Carley Sefton…

In 2015 our wonderful patron Sir David Attenborough made a film for us called ‘Conserving Wonder’.

The end of the film sees Sir David sitting among a group of children taking part in an outside lesson as he says the now famous words, “If children grow up not knowing about nature and appreciating it, they will not understand it, and if they don’t understand it, they won’t protect it, and if they don’t protect it, who will?”

In a year where we have seen children and young people around the world ‘school strike’ for climate change, the Polli:Nation schools project winning the National Lottery Environment Project of the Year, and the BBC’s Blue Planet impact on plastic use, I’ve seen this quote used a lot.

All these projects and campaigns are fantastic, but are they the only answer? Or do we need children to just be more connected to their planet and nature day-to-day – and if so, could early years settings be the key?

Getting closer to nature

Early years is the only time in most children’s education where they have free-flow play and learning in the outdoors.

Even in settings where this isn’t possible due to lack of outside space, children still tend to spend more time outdoors than at any other time during their education – so how can we use this time to connect our children to the planet around them?

As early years practitioners we should consider creating settings where connection to nature is an embedded part of daily life, where an understanding of weather cycles, growing and food production is a key part of learning.

Growing cress is a quick and fantastic way to demonstrate growing, but not everything in life is fast.

In our ‘instant everything’ culture it’s important for children to experience that growing food takes time and that different fruit and vegetables grow seasonally.

I understand that in the early years these concepts can seem beyond children’s comprehension, but using a model of experiential learning, children will learn just by doing these activities without the outcome having to be clearly understood (let’s be honest most of us struggle to understand how a little seed can become a carrot, tomato or a massive tree!).

There are lots of easy ways to start, including

  • creating a growing area;
  • having a wormery for food scraps;
  • planting pollinator-friendly flowers;
  • getting a weather station;
  • using a compost bin and feeling the heat it generates;
  • having contact with animals, chickens, fish, or a small pet.

Settings often say to me a lack of quality outdoor space means that it’s hard for these types of activities to take place.

I understand it’s easier when you have a big garden, but you can do so much with very little. Did you know you can grow potatoes in bags or plant a pollinator-friendly flower wall using old plastic bottles?

The internet, including the LtL website, is full of inspirational ideas on how to bring nature into your daily life, and while doing this you can easily start conversations with children about why it’s important to make good choices on how we use things, and why it’s important not to be wasteful.

Empowering early learners

With everything you need to achieve day-to-day every day, adding something else to the mix can seem overwhelming, but as we stand on this environmental cliff-edge our preschool children hold the future of the planet in their hands.

The choices they will make as adult consumers will affect us more than we can ever imagine.

So let’s empower them from the earliest opportunity, not by scaring them with all that’s bad but by creating awe and wonder about the natural world, so they don’t just want to protect it, they live at one with it…

Like Sir David said, if they don’t, who will?

Take action

Could you reduce your use of hidden plastics? Try to avoid…

  • Glitter (non-eco-friendly glitter take hundreds of years to decompose and is a micro plastic found in the ocean)
  • Laminating
  • Straws
  • Plastic cutlery, crockery and beakers
  • Cellophane
  • Balloons
  • Sellotape
  • Blu tack
  • Felt tip pens (millions of pen cases are thrown away every year.)

Carley Sefton is the CEO of Learning Through Landscapes – a UK charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children. Visit ltl.org.uk/free-resources to download free early years resources.