Preschools Can be Green Schools Too! Sustainability & Environmentalism in the Early Years.
One preschool's journey towards becoming a Green School.
In this engaging and informative guest blog post Clodagh Burke, who is the joint owner and manager of Ballymacarbry Montessori School in County Waterford and an early years tutor, tells us about her experience of engaging in the An Taisce Green Schools Programme* in the early childhood education and care setting.
*The An Taisce Green Schools Programme usually works with primary and secondary schools across Ireland as an award programme encouraging sustainability and environmental management.
How it All Began
When I was asked to write this blog, I was excited as I feel strongly that our participation in the An Taisce Green Schools Programme has been a really positive and challenging experience for us in Ballymacarbry Montessori School.
I’ll start by telling you about our school. We are a sessional Montessori service, and we are based in the the beautiful village of Ballymacarby, Co. Waterford, just over the border from Tipperary. The amazing Nire Valley is on our doorstep and many of our children live close to the Comeragh Mountains. Its very much a farming area, and the community spirit is the strongest I think I have ever experienced. I’m a Dub but they have been very kind and have taken me into their fold! We are based in a wonderful Community Centre which itself is a testament to the community spirit.
A number of years ago, we were contacted by our local Childcare Committee and asked if we would be interested in being involved in a pilot scheme to bring Preschools into the An Taisce Green Schools Programme. At the time, An Taisce had managed to find a sponsor for the programme and several services in Waterford got this opportunity. The sponsorship deal fell through subsequently so it was not rolled out countrywide.
However we were allowed to continue as we had already started. It was a bit daunting to be honest as there was quite a lot of work involved. Our local primary school were also involved in the programme and we began by asking them for advice. We attended some seminars and workshops run by the Green Schools. However most of the advice and workshops were geared towards running this programme with older children and specifically children who could read and write. Our children were of course all aged only 3 or 4 years old!
Litter and Waste
The Green Schools programme is divided up into themes, Litter and Waste, Energy, Water, Travel, and a number of other Biodiversity topics. So we started with Litter and Waste. This was a great opportunity for our little ones to begin to learn about waste and recycling. We began by creating a Green Schools Committee which was made up of the ‘Tigers’ (that’s what we call our older children who are in their second year with us). We explained to the children what we wanted to do and asked them would they be happy to be involved. They were delighted and so began the weekly ‘Committee Meetings’ every Monday. We did a walking tour of the Community Centre every Monday. We created a chart with each room highlighted and when the children found litter in a particular area, eg. The Theatre Hall or the Astro Turf, they ticked the relevant place on the chart.
We talked with the children how could we stop those areas being so littered? They came up with so many ideas! They said that there were not enough bins and they also suggested putting up signs. So that what we did, we put up signs to remind community centre users about where the bins were.
Our next big task was Recycling. We always had a recycling bin for ourselves but now the children became involved in it in a big way. We created a new daily job of ‘Recycling Captain’ and each day a child was allocated that job and of course wore the badge! The Recycling captain was in charge of making sure that everything was recycled properly, they also washed out all the yogurt cartons at lunchtime and made sure they made their way to the right bin. The same with food scraps as they had their own bin too. Woe betides anyone who tried to put paper in the wrong bin, you would be told in no uncertain terms to put it in the right place. The children’s interest inspired the teachers to be more aware of being wasteful. We asked parents to send in lunchboxes instead of tin foil and clingfilm for the snack. Each child has their own reusable beaker each day.
At the of the year, we could quantify how much less rubbish was going to the ordinary and bin and our quantity of recycling doubled.
The Green Schools programme sends an Inspector to assess how you have done (it’s usually the Environment Officer from the local Council). We were delighted to have achieved the first flag that year and our local Tidy Towns Committee was very pleased too as they got more marks from their Inspector and we got a wonderful mention in the report. Actually, it’s a really good idea for any service to build a relationship with their local Tidy Towns Committee. Ours is amazing and they are always happy to work with us on projects.
We moved on then to Energy. This was a bit harder as a lot of the programme is around monitoring electricity use. Unfortunately, we are only one group in a big community centre, and we couldn’t control energy use when we were not there.
Anyway, we got the Committee on to it. Of course, this Committee was completely new as the previous one was gone to Junior Infants! We created a new role of ‘Energy Sheriff’ to go along with the ‘Recycling Captain’. The Energy Sheriff was in charge of ensuring that no lights were left on unnecessarily. The Committee did a tour of the building again to identify where energy was being wasted. They noticed that lights were being left on in places where nobody was present, so the children drew signs and placed them beside every light switch in the building.
When the Inspector came that year, we had managed to reduce electricity use in the building by 20%. We were delighted. Parents reported that their own bills had reduced too as their children were switching off lights and appliances at home.
Water, next. We loved this one. The children especially loved the 4 ‘P’s. The 4 ‘P’s are Pee, Puke, Poo and Paper. These are the only things that are allowed to go into the toilet. I don’t think they will ever forget it! We did some brilliant experiments to show wipes can’t go into the loo. We put a wipe in the jar with water and gave it a good shake. We did the same with some toilet paper. The wipe just won’t disintegrate like the toilet paper. For the Water flag, of course we needed a new job – ‘The Water Warrior’. Another coveted position each day. We took another tour of the Community Centre and put reminders around the building. The Community Centre changed some of the taps to make them more environmentally friendly. We changed the flushes on our toilets. We even wrote a song which ended: ‘We don’t waste in Ballymac, WE are the future!’ The inspector was due on 12 March 2020. So unfortunately that never happened. We haven’t been stopped, though, we are going to achieve the Water Flag this year for sure!
Clodagh's Top Tips
My tips for being more environmentally aware in Preschool? Make sure the children have a reusable lunchbox and beaker. Get in touch with your local Tidy Towns Committee and set up some joint projects. See if any local business has spare cardboard, paper or other scraps for your art and craft projects. Make sure they children are involved and then they will definitely bring the ideas home.
Bur most importantly, don’t underestimate the energy and ideas of 3- and 4-year children, they are amazing.
A Note From Paula Walshe - The Digital Early Childhood Educator
I would like to thank Clodagh for this wonderful and inspiring guest blog post. If you would like to submit a guest blog post about anything Early Childhood Education related feel free to contact me via Twitter @digitalearlyed.
About Paula Walshe - The Digital Early Childhood Educator:
Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (www.thedigitalearlychildhoodeducator.ie), where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator
Paula has co-founded a Twitter community of practice page and podcast @ECEQualityIrl – focussing on sharing ideas and knowledge on all things quality, pedagogy and professional practice in ECEC in Ireland.
You can listen to the most recent ECE Quality Ireland podcast here.
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