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Is there a four year old Pania Newton or Greta Thunberg in one of our kindergartens or Kohanga Reo? And if so, are ECEs supporting these young individuals in sustainability? The answer is, in many cases, yes!

The Enviroschools programme has proven popular in hundreds of primary and secondary schools and is now being adopted by more and more ECEs.
Enviroschools is a nationwide programme supported by Toimata Foundation, founding partner Te Mauri Tau, and a large network of regional partners. Early childhood centres and schools commit to a long-term sustainability journey, in which tamariki/students connect with and explore the environment, then plan, design and take action in their local places in collaboration with their communities.

Petra du Fresne is a kindergarten teacher at Parkvale Kindergarten in Hastings, part of the Heretaunga Kindergarten Association.
The kindergarten was recently awarded its bronze level for practise in the Enviroschools programme.

“Enviroschools is among other things, a kaupapa Māori, hands-on sustainable programme. And through a process we share what we’re talking about and what we’re practising with the community.

Flow-on effect

The kaupapa is intrinsic in the centre’s teaching, and the effects of the programme have been far reaching, says Petra.
“We’ve had kids bring their own recycling form home telling us we don’t recycle at home so I brought these things in. It has a flow-on effect of making parents think. Just making gradual changes, and talking about those changes as we go about the day doing them.”
The personification of the whenua is powerful, and so is regular practise of the kaupapa, says Petra.

“We do waste audits where all of the rubbish comes into the kindergarten and we spread it out on a tarpaulin and we look at everything that is not going to break down has to go into the puku of Papatāūnuku.

“When we think of Papatāūnuku in terms of bodies, it helps them to relate to the consequences of their actions. Basing our teaching in this kaupapa means it becomes a part of our daily practise.

“There’s lots of Atua Māori and we read stories about Tangaroa, that kind of holistic approach, from the amazement about the environment through to thinking about the type of soap we’re using washing down into the earth.”

The educators talk about the environment as the third teacher, says Petra.
“We learn so much from working with nature. Life cycles of bugs and plants… its part of why we are here steering them towards that view. It’s embracing that sense of wonder the kids have and using that heightened mindfulness and groundedness the kaupapa enables to teach lifelong practises.

“Recently we took the class to watch the rubbish trucks take rubbish to the landfill. A couple of days later one of the boys talked about it and you think that some things might go over their heads, then you realise – there it is – it did go in.”

Natural fit with curriculum

Parkvale Kindergarten’s experience is one that is common in many of the ECE centres engaged in Enviroschools, says National ECE Enviroschools Coordinator Katie Higgins.
“The Enviroschools programme is in 375 ECE centres across the country. Predominantly they are kindergartens who are under the umbrella of the 17 Kindergarten Associations.
“We’ve found one of the most effective ways to work with the large ECE sector is in partnership models with Kindergarten Associations where they provide and fund the Enviroschools facilitator for their Kindergarten Association.”

The Enviroschools kaupapa is a natural fit with the ECE National Curriculum Te Whāriki, says Katie.

“Because both are holistic and based on children and whānau being genuinely included. What’s more, teachers in ECE are already experts in supporting inquiry based learning where children and teachers are investigating and co-constructing knowledge and action together.

“It goes beyond children learning about worm farms and sorting waste, and more into communities being empowered to learn about their environment and community and being connected to them.

“The young children and their whānau transitioning from an ECE Enviroschool into a school setting come with a whole raft of knowledge about thinking and acting sustainably.”
“Hei te 2025 e whai ana ngā marae katoa o Aotearoa i te Para Kore. By 2025, all marae and Māori organisations in New Zealand are working towards zero waste.”

This is the Te Pae Tata (aspirational goal) of Para Kore. Para Kore is a zero waste organisation with a kaupapa based on whakapapa to Papatāūnuku. Begun more than 10 years ago, it works with marae and any not-for-profit Māori organisations such as trusts, kura kaupapa and sports organisations, to increase the reuse, recycling and composting of materials, thereby helping to reduce the extraction of natural resources and raw materials from Papatāūnuku.

Para Kore is working towards embedding zero waste behaviours, and thus far there are 438 marae, kāhanga reo, kura and community groups signed up to the programme.
Since it began 455.6 tonnes of waste have been diverted from landfill, plus 259,136 participants have attended presentations, wānanga and events, says their marketing manager Urs Signer.

“This means spreading the word that putting everything in the same black rubbish bag is no longer acceptable,” says Urs.
“While ‘de-normalising’ this throwaway mentality, we aim to normalise the careful consumption of local products, to promote reuse, recycling and composting as standard practices and to nurture and encourage creative new systems that enable sharing of resources.

“Our ultimate goal is to create and nurture systems that produce no waste in the first instance, and in the meantime ensure that materials previously considered waste will instead be seen as a resource.”

Treading lightly on the world

Jared Hiakita is the Para Kore kaiārahi for Te Hiku (the Far North) and has delivered the programme to a number of ECEs.

“While my job is designed to work with adults within ECEs, we also direct our programme toward kids, who show an amazing ability to deeply engage with the different concepts we teach,” says Jared.

“I’ll take a worm farm in and they will buzz on seeing all the little worms being put into the worm farm. When they’re at the pre-school/early primary age they can really connect deeply with nature. With the right dialogue and teaching environments we can foster ideas that will encourage and motivate them to tread lightly on the earth and also to grasp ideas that we humans are a part of nature and not separate from it.

“To know their ancestors have stewarded the land before them gives them a sense of belonging to the land and ties them to caring for nature, and telling our stories shows them that they whakapapa back to the land. You can offer a very meaningful narrative to kids at such a young age.”

And why is that important?

“The prosperity of humanity depends on the vitality of Ranginui and Papatāūnuku. Not enough of us feel connected to our environments, while our modern ways are degrading our natural world upon which we depend.

“We need to understand that we are a part of our natural environment. For me that’s the most significant position that out little kids occupy. We can raise them with the idea that they are part of something much greater than themselves.

“If we can raise them to feel connected with the world, they are much more likely to tread lightly on it and be more motivated and activated to care for our planet.”

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