Early childhood educators gather to begin ‘greener’ project

Published 08 March 2012

Early childhood educators at 15 childcare and preschool centres from Tamworth to Tenterfield, and including Armidale, Guyra and Inverell, are joining a State-wide commitment to make early childhood education “greener”.

They took part in an Eco-symposium and Planning Workshop last weekend (Friday the 2nd to Sunday the 4th of March) at the University of New England, which was also attended by early childhood education specialists from UNE and the New England Institute of TAFE, and invited educators from Coffs Harbour and Brisbane.

The workshop initiated a year-long local project designed and led by Associate Professor Nadine McCrea from the Early Childhood Education Program within UNE’s School of Education. “The educators were enthusiastic about developing their emphasis on sustainability,” Dr McCrea said. “I was impressed by how keen everyone was to contribute and share in the discussions.”

The workshop was led by Deb Watson and Julie Gaul, representatives of the NSW Early Childhood Environment Education Network. The Network was established in 2004 to promote ideas and practices related to sustainability among educators and young children. It helps early childhood centres to incorporate environmentally sustainable practices into their curriculum and whole-centre management, thus acting as catalysts in the “greening” of their communities.

“We’ve already conducted several workshops in Sydney, and in regional centres including Orange and Port Macquarie,” Ms Watson said. “The participants are challenged to reflect on sustainable values, and ways in which elements of sustainability can be embedded in their teaching programs.”

Each session of the weekend’s program challenged the educators to use a “green lens” as they worked with the new National Quality Standard and its Quality Improvement Plan. The program included a visit to the Boongaiai Preschool for Rudolf Steiner Education at The Armidale Waldorf School, where the participants experienced the school’s natural surroundings and conservation-conscious environment.

Several Armidale businesses contributed to the weekend, including Collins Books, which provided a display of relevant books, and the Grassroots Eco-store, which displayed learning resources and safer cleaning products. Armidale Dumaresq Council provided reusable symposium bags for all the participants.

Dr McCrea said that the work within – and communication between – the participating centres that had begun over the weekend would continue until their next meeting. There will be one-day symposiums at Inverell in July and near Armidale in October, at which educators will share stories of their progress and dilemmas. At each event, guest experts will explore topics such as bush tucker, water sustainability, edible gardening, and food-cycle learning.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of UNE’s Associate Professor Nadine McCrea displayed here expands to show her, together with Deb Watson (left) and Julie Gaul from the NSW Early Childhood Environment Education Network, looking through a “green lens”.