Education for Sustainability Within Early Childhood Education
Education for sustainability (EfS) is a transformative approach to education that aims to empower learners to take action for a more sustainable future. EfS encompasses environmental, social, political, and economic aspects of sustainability and challenges the status quo of current development patterns. EfS is particularly relevant for early childhood education (ECE), as it can foster the values, attitudes, behaviors, and skills that children need to become responsible and active citizens in a changing world.
According to UNESCO (2017), early childhood care and education (ECCE) is the education of children from birth to eight years of age, which can lay the foundation for lifelong learning and well-being. ECCE can also be the starting point for the development of a sustainable society, especially by embedding EfS in early years curricula (Davis 2010; Elliott 2019; UNESCO 2014). Early childhood education for sustainability (ECEfS) is defined as “transformative, empowering, and participative education around sustainability issues, topics, and experiences via the creation of, and support of, learning communities in ECCE” (Spiteri 2019, p. 2).
ECEfS can help children develop a sense of connection and care for the natural environment, as well as an awareness of the social and cultural diversity that exists in their communities and beyond. ECEfS can also foster critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and action-taking skills that enable children to contribute to positive change in their own lives and in the wider society. ECEfS can be integrated into various aspects of ECE practice, such as curriculum design, pedagogy, assessment, learning environments, partnerships with families and communities, and professional development (Davis 2010; Elliott 2019; Spiteri 2019).
Some examples of ECEfS practices include:
– Engaging children in outdoor and nature-based learning experiences that promote curiosity, exploration, discovery, and appreciation of the natural world.
– Providing children with opportunities to learn about sustainability issues that are relevant to their local contexts and global challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, food and water security, plastic pollution, and social justice.
– Encouraging children to express their views and opinions on sustainability matters and to listen to and respect the perspectives of others.
– Supporting children to take action for sustainability in their everyday lives, such as reducing waste, saving energy and water, growing food, caring for animals, sharing resources, and helping others.
– Collaborating with families and communities to create a culture of sustainability in the ECE setting and beyond.
ECEfS is not only beneficial for children’s learning and development but also for the quality of ECE provision and the professional growth of educators. ECEfS can enhance the relevance and responsiveness of ECE curriculum to the needs and interests of children and their families. ECEfS can also inspire educators to reflect on their own values and practices and to engage in continuous learning and improvement. Moreover, ECEfS can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a set of global targets for peace, prosperity, and planetary well-being by 2030.
To implement ECEfS effectively, educators need to have adequate knowledge, skills, attitudes, and support. Some strategies that can help educators develop their capacity for ECEfS include:
– Accessing relevant resources and materials that provide guidance and examples of ECEfS practice.
– Participating in professional development opportunities that enhance their understanding and competence in EfS.
– Networking with other educators who share similar interests and goals in ECEfS.
– Seeking feedback from children, families, colleagues, and experts on their ECEfS practice.
– Reflecting on their own learning journey and celebrating their achievements in ECEfS.
ECEfS is an important and promising field of education that can prepare children for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. By integrating EfS into ECE practice, educators can help children develop a holistic view of themselves and the world they live in. They can also empower children to become active agents of change who can make a positive difference for themselves, others, and the environment.
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