Category Archives: Sustainability in Early Childhood

Remembering Our Indigenous Self

Originally published on

“The indigenous soul lives close to the ground, to moss, river and loon. It moves in springs and wind, is close to the breath of coyotes. It is scratched on rock walls around the planet, is seen dancing around firelight and is heard in stories told under the canopy of stars. The indigenous soul is the thread of our humanness woven inextricably with the world. Where all things meet and exchange the vitality that is life, there is soul.”

Francis Weller

11454280703_190ee9a9fb_kThis past weekend, in mid-November, thirty Atlatl Boys and thirty Artemis Moon Girls gathered on Wild Earth’s Stonykill land for our autumn overnight. As a parent of one of the Atlatl Boys, I was invited to join in for the boy’s cookout dinner. I arrived just as the sun was making its final farewell for the day – the moon rising slowly and generously in the East. Continue reading Remembering Our Indigenous Self

10 Promising Practices of Early Childhood Education For Sustainability

Curriculum is integrated and place-based.

An integrated curriculum grounded in one’s place—the local human and natural community— is key to Education for Sustainability in early childhood. In order for children to become citizens who are engaged in creating sustainable communities, they must care for, and understand the interconnectedness of their human and natural community and world. To foster this sense of caring and proclivity toward action, children must first be provided with the opportunity to explore and connect to their places, guided by their senses of wonder and curiosity.

EXAMPLE: A preschool class steps out the school doors to explore the community around them. Building capacity for safety and learning, the teachers start with short excursions outside the school yard, practicing walking safely on the sidewalks, sticking together, and going a little further each time out. As children’s capacities grows, the class takes pictures of favorite or interesting spots. These photos are printed in triplicate to use in the classroom in a matching game and to be added to the class map. During a bread unit, the class visits various neighborhood stores to buy and taste a variety of breads representing many of the cultures in the classroom.


Learning and curriculum are play-based and emergent.

Learning is seamless and is led by the child’s sense of wonder, curiosity, and innate ability to construct meaning through play. The teacher acts as a guide, creating opportunities for child- directed discovery, as well as facilitating learning experiences that build on the conversations, play, and questions that emerge from classroom dynamics and adventures.

EXAMPLE: A camp for preschool-age children spends the days outdoors in the forest. As the campers explore sections of the forest they create areas that represent Olympic challenges. Log walking and stump jumping are popular. Other campers create and play in castles and pirate ships fashioned from old stumps. When the teacher discovers a red eft, she gently captures it and invites the children over to examine it, and lets them take turns holding it. As she marvels at it with the children she asks them, “What else do you think we might find living here?” Later, the teacher suggests to the children that they could try walking like the red eft they found.

play based

Sustainability is a lens.

When decisions need to be made, we might ask, “What would be a more sustainable choice?” Rather than being an add-on, Education for Sustainability provides an opportunity to use sustainability as a lens to envision the entire school or program— from how decisions are made, to curricular content, to purchasing supplies, configuration of outdoor play spaces, and connecting with families. Thinking and decision-making are guided by finding the optimal intersections of environmental integrity, social equity, and economic prosperity.

EXAMPLE: A private pre-k program has a mission of social and racial justice and a commitment to maintain no racial majority within its program. Therefore, they offer sliding-scale tuition, and have eliminated the traditional financial aid and tuition program.


Campus and classroom demonstrate and practice sustainability.

Young children learn by doing. When the campus demonstrates and models sustainability practices, young children innately learn, and
thus practice, sustainability. In early childhood the implicit practices are just as important as the explicit curriculum. Practices such as classroom composting, reusing supplies, and democratic decision making in partnership with children all implicitly model sustainability for young learners.

EXAMPLE: Recycling, using environmentally friendly cleaning products, composting, and gardening are all regular parts of the pre-k and kindergarten classes’ daily routines. In an effort to help young children to really understand composting, one class uses a small, clear plastic bin to collect food scraps, dead leaves, plants, and a few handfuls of soil to witness the process of their food being broken down into compost.


Young children explore their connection to and relationship with the natural and built world through developmentally appropriate Big Ideas of Sustainability.

There are big ideas, or underlying concepts, that are fundamental to understanding and demonstrating sustainability. In early childhood these Big Ideas of Sustainability are: cycles, change, fairness, community, diversity, and interdependence. These ideas are integrated into the natural rhythm of and learning that happens in early childhood. Young children explore these big ideas and their relationship to them through inquiry, play, and exploring their classroom, school, and neighborhood communities in relevant and meaningful ways.

EXAMPLE: Preschool-age children dive into the Big Ideas of Animal and Plant Cycles, and Change Over Time, as they explore what happens to the garden and animals in winter. Trips to the snow-covered garden show that small creatures are making tiny tunnels through the snow. Garden plants, grasses, and weeds have gone to seed and many of the seeds are scattered on the snow. Their teacher reads books about animal adaptations in winter and the class decides to set up a similar habitat in their classroom. Teachers supply plastic tunnels, white sheets, and some puppets, and the children create an indoor habitat to mimic what they found outdoors. This focus leads to continued observation as the snow melts and plants begin to grow again in the spring.


Young children have a voice, make decisions, and draw connections between their choices and the impact on their worlds.

Children need to see themselves as capable, knowledgeable, and participatory citizens. They need to be given the opportunity to make decisions, share their thinking, advocate for their needs and fairness, and problem solve to make a difference. Young children are capable of understanding and observing change over time, and how they affect their small world through everyday actions and words. When children are given the opportunity to shape their own world in childhood they will grow to have the ability to shape the larger world.

EXAMPLE: Kindergarten students decide it is important for their neighborhood and schoolyard to have animals and plants, to be clean, and to
have safe places for kids to play in. Students go on neighborhood walks to evaluate if these features are present in their neighborhood and schoolyard. Following the walks, students brainstorm projects the class could do on a schoolwide Day of Service to meet the needs that they had uncovered on their walks. Students plan and carry out the creation of a shade garden to provide a habitat for animals, build two sandboxes, and organize a neighborhood clean-up.


Local and cultural perspectives are considered and learned through building healthy relationships with family, classroom, and community.

Investigating and exploring the local community is key to Education for Sustainability, especially in early childhood. Young children need to be connected with their natural and built communities in positive and healthy ways. They need to explore and experience natural cycles, human diversity, and healthy relationships with others and the environment. The local human and natural worlds are the context for learning and provide a framework for global comparisons as a child’s worldview expands. Children investigate differences and explore multiple perspectives, respect, tolerance, and diversity.

EXAMPLE: As a part of their study of THE LITTLE RED HEN, the first grade begins to study the life cycle of wheat and the role bread plays in our diets. They visit a variety of local ethnic markets, grocery stores, and bodegas to find the different kinds of bread people in their community eat. At school, they hold a taste test and try all the different bread, sharing with one another the types of bread they eat at home.


Learning is relevant and connected to children’s lives.

Embedding sustainability into the fabric and life of the curriculum and school is essential to developing the attitudes, skills, and knowledge in our children so they can contribute to and build sustainable communities now and into the future. Our young citizens need to see themselves as a part of their community and need their learning to be reflective of the lives they are living. When we allow the community and students’ interests to guide learning and curriculum, academic achievement and engagement is high.

EXAMPLE: The kindergarten classes conduct a yearlong study of Community Helpers. As they learn about all the people and organizations that play meaningful roles in their community, and discover what they do, the children quickly begin to understand the importance of every member of their community. As the children explore how we all depend on each other, they start to appreciate the role these people and organizations play in their homes, classroom, and neighborhood communities. Through daily interactions, as well as several service projects, the children come to realize that, in fact, they are Community Helpers themselves.


Children practice inquiry and open-ended questioning.

Scientific literacy and inquiry is crucial to building sustainable communities. It is essential for children to develop a healthy attitude toward, and understanding of, the environment. Inquiry is more than just asking questions; inquiry requires the learner to think critically, find and process information, use that information in real-life situations, and regularly engage in reflection—all vital twenty-first-century skills.

EXAMPLE: In a pre-k classroom, essential questions span several units of study. Questions are open enough to explore many topics of children’s interests, but focused enough to allow children to make connections. When children explore “What’s happening in winter?” focusing on the big ideas of change, cycles, and responsibility; they explore the changing landscape and weather from fall to winter, specifically observing trees, squirrels in their schoolyard, snowflakes, and how they take care of themselves and each other when the weather gets cold.


Anti-bias, equity, and justice form the foundation of our teaching.

Each one of us has a unique and vital role to play in creating the communities we want to be a part of, and the perspectives, experience, and background we bring shed more light together than they do in isolation. Creating classrooms and school communities with respect, justice, and equity at their heart—the kinds of classrooms that will allow each child to reach his or her true potential—require educators to investigate our own power and privilege and often reframe our understanding of identity. Each child and each family who enter our classrooms bring with them tremendous assets, and many of us also carry personal and communal histories of oppression. EFS demands that every single one of us commits to teaching, finding and using materials, and creating a classroom environment that honors the culture, family structure, gender identity, race, and gifts of all our students. We also must commit to identifying, intervening, and exploring oppression with our students.

EXAMPLE: Teaching faculty, administrators, and support staff spend the course of a year reading and discussing the book COURAGEOUS CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RACE by Glen Eric Singleton and Curtis Linton. The book explores the role of race in education. They begin to better understand what different racial, cultural, and gender identities mean for themselves and their students and start to change the materials (books, toys, games) in their classroom and some of the language they use (no longer saying “boys and girls,” for example). They develop a greater capacity for identifying and interrupting oppression and a better understanding of systemic forms of oppression.


Teaching Children *How* to Think Instead of What to Think


Right now our education system is doing more to indoctrinate our children than to educate them. In fact, that has been the case for quite some time. Our young minds are being told to accept authority as truth instead of truth as authority, and teachers talk at the students instead of with them.

Teachers have become repeaters of information. They are merely regurgitating everything they once learned from their own teachers, and perpetuating the recycling of information; information that has managed to evade scrutiny for generations. Children are no longer the masters of their own learning, and instead, their minds are being treated as storage containers.


The factory model of education, with its focus on academic and economic elitism, is churning out obedient workers for the system, encouraged to conform every step of the way. We are not being treated as organic, creative, investigative human beings, but instead as parts in the machine. The education system is filtering out the inquisitive nature of our being, with the ultimate goal being to prevent dissent against the system. The system doesn’t want thinkers. It doesn’t want people to question its methods. It wants a population that can be easily manipulated and controlled so as to relinquish all its power to the elite.


There are those who say that critical thinking skills cannot be taught in schools. Socrates would likely scoff at that notion, were he still alive today. It was Socrates who said, “I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.”

If we’re going to solve the problem of indoctrination in our school system, we have to learn to begin asking questions instead of giving answers. Real learning is achieved through the investigative process. Children have to be encouraged to search for the answers themselves. It is up to the teachers to provide the tools and resources necessary for the children to conduct these inquiries and make meaningful discoveries. One well-formed question will do more to inspire than any number of answers. In every facet of our educational pursuits, it becomes crucial to begin an open dialogue with our students, to encourage healthy debate and to have them form their own conclusions.

The importance of teaching philosophy in schools cannot be underestimated. In a world where most of humanity is running on the treadmill with the blinders on, it is paramount that we re-evaluate our own perspectives from time to time, and look at the big picture.

What teaching philosophy does is it gets us thinking, it gets us questioning, and it gets us contemplating. Without these skills, humanity will continue to function on autopilot, and we will allow those in power to continue to dominate, oppress and enslave us in every way.

We need to reclaim our own minds…


About the Author

Will Stanton is an Australian writer, activist and teacher who has dedicated his life to changing the education system. He is about to release his book, Education Revolution, which looks at the current paradigm of education and proposes solutions to its many problems. In the book, he offers an entirely new model for global education which he calls The Six Dimension Model. You can follow his Facebook page here:

Keeping Kids Safe From Household Chemicals

Think your home is safe from accidental poisoning? Kids and pets get into everything, so take a good look at what you’ve got lying around.

Your house and garage may be full of toxic products that you might not even consider to be dangerous. But those extra cans of paint, the kitchen cleaner, and the laundry detergent and bleach are all made with household chemicals that can potentially poison a child.

Dangerous Household Chemicals: Poison Control 101

You may use many common household chemicals every day, but they can still be dangerous if swallowed or if allowed to come into with contact the skin or eyes. Look out for the following products:

  • House paint
  • Batteries
  • Antifreeze and motor oil
  • Household bleach
  • Antibacterial kitchen and bathroom cleaners
  • Laundry and dishwashing detergent
  • Windshield wiper fluid
  • Insecticides and other pesticides
  • Flea and tick control products
  • Glass cleaner
  • Nail polish and remover
  • Insect traps and bombs
  • Perfume, cologne, and hair products
  • Chemicals that kill mildew and mold
  • Drain clearing chemicals
  • Air-freshening sprays and other freshening agents
  • Carpet shampoo
  • Furniture cleaner
  • Mothballs

Keeping Kids Safe From Household Chemicals

All of these potentially dangerous household chemicals should be kept out of children’s reach — either stored on a shelf too high for kids to reach (even with a step stool) or locked in a cabinet. Many of these chemicals come in brightly colored boxes and bottles, and can intrigue young children. However, just one gulp or splash on the skin can mean serious trouble.

Follow these tips to keep children safe from poisoning or injury from household chemicals:

  • Store bleach, kitchen, bathroom, and other household cleaners in a high cabinet or behind a child-safe lock on a cabinet door. Put all toxic household chemicals in this cabinet, and keep it locked at all times. Don’t let older children see how you unfasten the lock.
  • Make sure children can’t reach your personal items like nail polish and remover, perfume, cologne, and hair products. Even though these are considered health and beauty aids, they are still made with chemicals.
  • Never leave toxic household chemicals unattended when children are around.

When to Call Poison Control

Even with the best efforts to keep children away from household chemicals, accidents sometimes happen. These chemicals might be splashed, touched, inhaled, or even swallowed — and you need to know what to do.

  • First, read the label on the product that your child has come into contact with. Follow the instructions on the label.
  • Call the poison control center if the product doesn’t offer instructions. The nationwide number is 800-222-1222. Post the number somewhere that will be easy to see in a crisis.
  • You can also call 911 in an emergency situation; do this first if your child is unconscious.
  • If skin or eyes have been splashed with a toxic chemical, rinse with water from the shower or sink for at least 15 or 20 minutes.
  • If the chemical has been swallowed, call poison control immediately.
  • If toxic fumes were inhaled, immediately take your child outside to breathe fresh air.

Be prepared for potential poisonings, but take these simple steps to prevent them. These precautions can help keep your child safe — and what’s more important than that?