ChildLinks Issue 1: Environmental Sustainability in Early Childhood Education and Care

Barnardos. (2023). Childlinks Issue 1: Environmental Sustainability in Early Childhood Education and Care.
Global concerns about pollution, overpopulation, waste disposal, climate change, global warming, and the greenhouse effect are central to current discourse about healthy futures for children. It is widely acknowledged that adults need to make more proactive efforts to sustainably restore and regenerate the planet on which we live for future generations. It is also increasingly evident that a proactive stance with children in urgently addressing global environmental issues, highlighting an ethical responsibility to sustainability, is needed. Children have a right to an education that supports the development of respect for the natural environment, and early childhood education and care (ECEC) is crucial to education for environmentalism and sustainability. A respect for and a drive to protect and preserve nature can be instilled in even the youngest children. While the influence of formative nature experiences in supporting children to develop an affinity with and appreciation of nature, and subsequently pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours, has been widely discussed, it is clear that early environmental education needs to go further to develop children’s understanding and awareness of issues relating to environmentalism and sustainability. In the first article in this issue on environmental sustainability in ECEC, Dr Sue Elliott and Dr Fran Hughes from the University of New England in Australia argue for deeper educator understandings about sustainability and stronger transformative pedagogical engagement for collectively shifting towards worldviews aligned with a global sustainability trajectory. This is followed by a consideration of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by Dr Diane Boyd from Liverpool John Moores University, who highlights how one early years educator in Australia incorporated sustainability into her early childhood setting in an inspiring way. Muireann Ranta, SETU, then considers a child rights-based participatory education for sustainable development approach in ECEC, acknowledging that, for children to enjoy their education and participatory rights, they need regular access to nature, time, space and flexibility with listening adults who know them, and buy in from leaders, both within settings and at government level. Also in this issue, Magdalene Hayden, Education Programme Executive at SEAI, highlights the need for education programmes that focus on the importance of saving energy and protecting the environment in a safe and age-appropriate way. Clodagh Burke from Ballymacarbry Montessori School then details her setting’s experiences of taking part in a pilot scheme to bring Preschools into the An Taisce Green Schools Programme. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) then considers the relationship between Ireland’s early childhood curriculum framework Aistear and the Sustainable Development Goals, and highlights calls to renew and strengthen the focus on sustainability as Aistear is updated. Finally, Dr Jennifer Pope and Dr Mary Moloney from Mary Immaculate College, Limerick look at how inquiry-based learning nurtures positive dispositions towards learning about the environment in the early years.