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Sustainability in Early Years Education

When thinking about sustainability in early childhood education, thought must be given to the kind of world our children will inherit in the long term as they will become the caretakers of the future.

Written by: Jo Harris - Educational Advisor  

Sustainability in Early Childhood Education

Defining sustainability involves consideration of how we live and how it impacts our environment. When thinking about sustainability in early childhood education, thought must be given to the kind of world our children will inherit in the long term as they will become the caretakers of the future. Our attitudes toward the way we live now are reflected in the choice of resources we use, including many smaller decisions from the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, and our efforts in reusing, reducing, and recycling those resources we rely on to live. 

Since all of life is dependent upon the environment, and the natural resources it provides in food, water, shelter, and nutrition, acting sustainably means that humans must protect and preserve them for future generations and the health of planet Earth. 

Life-long sustainable skills for children

Teaching children sustainable skills is a simple and practical way to learn about the environment and how to care for it through daily activities, making it meaningful and simple to implement. By incorporating these, children also can become aware of their connection to nature and have strategies to help care for it.

Ideas such as re-using resources for multiple purposes, recycling what is no longer needed, and repairing salvageable items are all simple ways to embed sustainable practices.  These could become part of intentionally planned discussions, activities, and experiences.

Since children copy what they see adults do, rather than what they say, there are many opportunities to model these practices. Observing adults adding food scraps and composting them, purchasing groceries and other items that have recyclable packaging, or using public transport can generate discussions in which children may ask questions and discover answers which become a permanent part of their learning.

Embedding the new principle into practice

As with any principle, it is important to break things down into realistic steps. In relation to sustainability, this is an area that can be developed by applying actions to daily routines. There is no expectation of having everything worked out, but instead, recognise that this is an ongoing commitment.

Inviting children, their families and all team members is integral to the process, to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Similarly, joining others within organisations within the wider community is a vital source of information and support.

Connecting with national networks including Early Childhood Education for Sustainability (ECEfS) is an ideal starting point and source of updated information to draw upon. “EEEC works and networks with early-years professionals about Education for Sustainability in the early years to ensure a sustainable future. Integrating sustainable pedagogy in daily curriculum aligns with well-being for mind, body, spirit, and world.”

Sourcing information and strategies from Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard and the early years learning frameworks can support educators with planning, programming, and updating policies.

Teaching and learning about sustainability can be uncomplicated 

Although it can seem overwhelming and in parts difficult to consider how you might teach young children some of the abstract concepts associated with sustainability, it can be enjoyable, and enabling from the point of view of promoting children’s agency.

As most children have a curiosity about nature and the natural world, there are opportunities to explore it whilst building children’s knowledge and understanding of sustainability. Encouraging children to explore and investigate their local surroundings, they can learn all about living alongside wildlife and plants and the beauty and magic they provide as a part of the thriving ecosystems that we share.

Growing and tending gardens, including food is a key way to teach children where food comes from and to appreciate the work and effort involved when cooking and consuming it. Composting and recycling are also important ways for children to gain a deeper understanding of how they interact with materials they use each day and in a variety of different settings.

For more ideas and inspiration on how to implement sustainable practices with young learners visit


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