Home' Belonging Early Years Journal : Vol 5 No 2 Contents BELONGING EARLY YEARS JOURNAL • VOLUME 5 NUMBER 2 • 2016 • 59
play areas, equipment + sustainable practice
in outdoor playspaces, baskets of natural materials
(albeit often store-bought and imported) and more
than 150 bush kinder programs nationally. There are
significant documented benefits for children resulting
from these changes, but is nature enough to address
global climate change?
Into this mix we add the word ‘sustainability’, a
somewhat new and perplexing term for many early
childhood educators (Elliott & McCrea, 2015). But,
sustainability is multidimensional – not just about
nature – and, according to UNESCO (2010), includes
four dimensions: social, natural, economic and
political. Sustainability is also about shifting world views
and exploring ways of coexisting ethically with others
(both human and non-human) in the world.
While there are now many practitioner publications
to promote exploration of what sustainability might
mean in early childhood settings, field experience
suggests that practitioners default to nature as the
most readily understandable way to implement
sustainability; or perhaps they may identify a few
discrete sustainable outdoor practices, such as worm
farms and water tanks. The unique challenges of
engaging with sustainability (Standard 3.3) in early
childhood services are evident in the regular ACECQA
assessment and ratings reports. Most recently, this
standard was explicitly identified as the third most
frequently unmet standard for early childhood services
nationally (ACECQA, 2016).
With this history and discussion of the challenges
in mind, we must now rethink the implementation of
education for sustainability in early childhood settings.
Some possible strategies for deeper shifting of
world views and multidimensional approaches are
1. Draw UNESCO’s four dimensions of sustainability
as quadrants on a sheet of paper and, as a team
of educators, create your own service map of
the various program experiences and routines,
and/or operational practices that link to the
different quadrants. Now question whether there
is an abundance of ideas listed under the natural
dimension, and not much elsewhere in the social,
economic or political ones. What new ideas could
be introduced into the program or service operation
that would lead to a more balanced and holistic
embedding of sustainability?
2. Reflect on how any new sustainability
experiences or practices are introduced. Are they
introduced as ‘this is what we are now going to do’,
or is a rationale offered and discussed incorporating
all viewpoints? You might like to view Simon Sinek’s
TED Talk online about leading change by beginning
with ‘why’, not ‘what’. You are most likely to embed
change and bring others along with you by beginning
with ‘why’ we might need to use sustainable cleaning
practices, not ‘what’ you think are the ones to use.
3. Engage in some pedagogical challenges by
considering how the values, world views and the
inevitable dilemmas of implementing sustainability
experiences might be integrated into the program with
children and families. There are many social learning
possibilities, such as how children might equitably
share water from a limited source in a sandpit or
digging patch, how to incorporate plants in play
without denuding the garden, or considering the
sustainability ethics of food at lunch or snack time.
As indicated at the outset, nature is not enough –
there is much more to addressing sustainability in
early childhood services, and we must do so in times
of global climate uncertainty. I acknowledge that
experiences in nature are important, but they are
only part of the story in promoting a healthy and
sustainable future for children.
References and further reading
Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality
Authority (ACECQA) (2013). ‘Guide to the National
Quality Standard’. Retrieved from http://files.
Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality
Authority (ACECQA) (2016). ‘NQF Snapshot Q4 2015’.
Retrieved from http://files.acecqa.gov.au/files/
Danysh, H.E. (2014). ‘El Niño adversely affected
childhood stature and lean mass in northern Peru’.
Climate Change Responses, 1:7
Davis, J. (Ed.) (2015). Young children and the
environment: Early education for sustainability (2nd ed.).
Port Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press.
Elliott, S., & McCrea, N. (2015). ‘Gaps and challenges
informing professional learning about early
childhood education for sustainability’. The Social
Educator. 33(3), 17–28.
Elliott, S. (2014). Sustainability and the Early
Years Learning Framework. Mt Victoria, Australia:
Sneddon, S., & Pettit, A. (2016). Sustainability in action
in early childhood settings. Blairgowrie, Victoria:
Young, T., & Elliott, S. (2014). Ways of thinking, acting
and relating about sustainability. Deakin West,
Australia: Early Childhood Australia.
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