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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Magazine Issue 53 Summer 2013
Substantial research shows that education for sustainability must start early in life, as it is in a child’s early years (before they are five) that they begin to develop the basic values, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs that they will carry into their adult life. Early childhood educators have a professional and ethical responsibility to support children to become moral agents and ‘world citizens’. A moral citizen is defined as having the ability to reflect, take responsibility and act in support of their own and others’ rights and in suppor t of justice and the wellbeing of others at both a local and global level (Johansson, 2009). As pedagogical leaders we can build upon young children’s knowledge to transform their thinking, practices and relationships by empowering children to express their concerns about rights, justice and the wellbeing in day to day routines, interactions and learning experiences. There is a need for further evidence-based research to be undertaken on education for sustainability within the early childhood education sector. It has become apparent that many educators are either unaware of, or fear ful of the extent to which change is required to achieve a sustainable society. There has recently been a shift in the focus on promoting sustainability with the introduction of the National Quality Framework. However, educators need to understand that creating a sustainable society is more in-depth than simply having a worm farm, recycling or creating ‘green spaces’ in their setting; it is also about questioning moral issues, and critically reflecting on the interconnection between economic, social and environmental issues. Teaching for sustainability is about creating a culture of community learners; the Swedish National Curriculum for example, embraces the concept of community learners within its curriculum and has successfully taught children global citizenship skills. We are often over protective of our children, and shelter them from ‘real world’ problems by avoiding discussing issues such as climate change, poverty and the effects of urbanisation. However, children are exposed to these issues every day through the media; turning a blind eye to them simply delays the child’s process of making sense of a world of which they are already a part. Moreover, education for sustainability is not all doom and gloom; it is ‘transformational’ education that empowers children to be engaged in taking action in their own environment and creating social change. How can today’s children be the voice of tomorrow if we do not provide them with learning oppor tunities that allow them to be active citizens in the world in which they live? Let’s work towards creating pedagogical programs where families, the community and children are all active participants in unpacking local and global issues. Our Journey At John Mewburn Child Care Centre we are only at the beginning of our exciting journey in developing a pedagogical program that unpacks a deeper understanding of what it means to be sustainable for all of our stakeholders, including our children, families and educators. Our story so far has been one of reflection, discussion and collaboration, planning for change, trial (and sometimes error!) and, most importantly, learning for all of us. First Steps: Reflecting and Sharing We started our journey with educators reflecting upon and sharing their professional learning around the ‘Early Years Bush Connection’ program. This program, developed by Sydney TAFE, is an early childhood program based on the principle that through learning about nature in a natural setting, children are more likely to grow up respecting and caring for the environment. Their reflections and discussions led educators to think about how they connected with nature and played as children. Some of the educators come from the area in which our centre is located in Malabar, which is a coastal suburb in Sydney’s southeast. These educators spoke about their experiences of exploring the beach and rock pools in the local community as children; other educators shared stories about how in their home country they did not have what many of us would consider to be toys as children, instead sticks, rocks, mud and chickens were considered to be their toys. The discussions took place in non-formal meetings, like a yarning circle. You could see the joy in the educators’ eyes as they talked about their childhood memories. We then discussed how the elements of what they had valued as play, when they were children, could be added into the context of the centre philosophy - for example, nature place spaces and the use of natural materials. Initially educators and children worked together in the outdoor environment to create ‘green spaces’. However, despite our enthusiasm, after several weeks many of the plants and shrubs we had planted died. The educators and children reflected together on why this may have happened. Did we care for the plants properly? Are these the best conditions for these plants to live in? Do different plants need different types of care? This process of reflection eventually led to an investigation into what plants, rocks and animals are native to our area, which in turn led to a further investigation into our community and brought us to consider Who did this land belong to before us? We discovered that the Eora people are the traditional custodians of our land, and that our centre’s outdoor area already grows many native plants including the Lilli Pilli tree, which produces a fruit you can make into jam, and the Coastal Wattle which flowers when the whales are migrating. As part of the development of our outdoor space we now work with the children to research and plant vegetation that is native to our area. 7 REFLECTIONS • GOWRIE AUSTRALIA • SUMMER 2013 - ISSUE 53 7 reflections.issue53_Layout 1 11/11/13 2:26 PM Page 7
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