Investing in the future : Sustainability in Early Years.

As a green early years school we nurture sustainability daily through our emergent curriculum under the Aistear learning through play Framework. Creating communities of practice with our children, families, subject matter experts – artists, gardeners, film makers, environmental experts have all been part of our wonderful journey over the last 12 years.

Gardening, mud kitchens, drawing, painting, stories, muddy boots are all part of the daily routine here as this is what the children tell us they want to do. One of the greatest deliverables of an emergent curriculum is that you become a very active listener, you see through the eyes of the child and you learn with them. Working alongside my fellow EY teacher Rhona we love our daily work with the children. In May 2022 we had were involved in the Seedsavers and Rachel Doolin Project Seedarium. With the children we went through our seed store – all of which are saved seeds year on year with the children and together decided which seeds we wanted to be included in the seedarium.

  • Sunflowers • Lupen
  • Sweet Pea
  • Hazelnuts ( technically a nut but were chosen for inclusion).

Each child took part in decorating labels and drawing their self portrait to sent to Rachel it was very special and linked into our school culture of inclusion and participation, community outreach, sense of belonging and sustainability all treasured themes from Aistear and Siolta. It was an amazing experience and we so look forward to the exhibition and how Rachel included our contributions.

So when Rachel and George invited us to take part in the BEAG: Little Peas project rolled out in Cork we were delighted. From the end of May through June and July the children planted and cared for their peas. So although a group activity as each child had their own pea they developed empathy and responsibility while sharing comradery and experience with their peers. As pedagogues we saw this project as an opportunity to complement our gardening and sustainability themes in our emergent curriculum. We were not expecting the Aesthetic, Emotional and Social journey that we found ourselves on.

The little peas box arrived to great joy for the children. With story book and felt toy included we began discussing the project with the children and gained their assent and informed consent from the parents to participate. Over the next 12 weeks each child grew one pea and took that pea home once shoots arrived and the plant was sturdy , we planted multiple peas in little pots, plastic bottles and egg cartons to observe and monitor in the school aswell. When transplanting with the children some peas were moved on to bigger pots and a number were moved to window boxes which sat along the front of the large school window giving us observational opportunities both inside and outside.

Then the fun began caring for their peas, watering the plants, coming back in on Mondays to check was the soil wet or dry., making sure they had enough water to last the weekend on Fridays. Eagerly watching the flowers appear, the transformation of the flower to pod and the pods getting fatter. So the themes of Inquiry, STEAM, Trial and error and Experimentation were all very vivid features of the project. Once the peas started to grow in the window boxes more themes were discovered.

As we researched with the children they became researchers in their own right. Together we learnt what worked, what did not, when the sun was just enough or too much, when the plants needed water when they had to much.
While the children were watching and observing the peas we were so immersed in their observations we began to see the world from their eyes on a much deeper level then ever before through gardening.
Each child drew their understanding of the life cycle of a pea in a living journal capturing their experience.

To ensure authenticity and uniqueness of each drawing to represent the voice of each child the drawings were completed individually.
The following are learning stories where the children described what they saw and the teachers identified the language of themes around these experiences.

The window boxes are still going well some plants have moved on and some have grown bigger. The kids mind the family of plants and it also has great significance for them as some of their friends have transitioned on and they themselves are now represented by the bigger plants with new children arriving. The overall experience was very insightful and so much fun. The project allowed a deeper connection to the voice of the child in the setting by identifying themes they see daily of friendship, growth and play in nature and an overall sense of belonging.
Following on from it we are now looking at linking deeper examinations of nature in the setting and linking those to themes of nutrition, maths, inquiry aswell as emotional, cultural and social themes. We are now working with Rachel on a PEA Podcast where the children will dictate their learnings and these will become rich documented audio artefacts of their experiences for years to come.

Author: Denise Sheridan

Owner/Manager – Úlla Beag Preschool

Denise works full-time as an Early Years Teacher specialising in creating learning environments where the child’s interests are paramount. She runs Úlla Beag in East Clare and is also currently completing a Masters in Early Childhood Studies through the Portobello Institute and the University of East London. Ulla Beag has been a member service of Early Childhood Ireland for 12 years.

Published by Dr M

An Early Years Specialist in the areas of Education, Psychology, and Research, I am passionate about curriculum development and the benefits of IT in Early years for promoting creative thought, autonomy, and innovative teaching and learning. Throughout my career I have also been involved in raising awareness of the importance of outdoor play, the provision of training and development in Adult Education; improved Parental involvement, and also Psychological development and behavioural analysis particularly in children under 6yrs. As a Counsellor and Psychotherapist, I work with parents, schools, and preschools as consultant and mentor offering support and advice, training, and quality assurance with the aim of encouraging standardisation and recognition amongst the Early Years profession.

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