Many children have little or no exposure to a natural environment they have minimal interaction with anything in a nature context. Whether that's because of a lack of exposure in their home environment or it's simply logistics because they live in an urbanised area. What we're finding more and more is that the impact on children is profoundly greater than simply their disinterest in nature, it changes the way they view the world around them. This is one of the reasons why the issue of sustainability, growing food, growing plants and home cooking is so high on my agenda; because I can see the profound impact it has had on my life and my child's life.
So when I was recently given the opportunity to attend School Gardening and Sustainability Training held by the Victorian School Garden Awards, hosted by the award winning 5 star rated Sustainable school at St. Macartan's Parish Primary School in Mornington I obviously jumped at it.
Understanding how to implement a sustainable lifestyle in your own home is vastly different to how you implement it in the school system, how do you encourage children to then take that knowledge home and in fact educate their own families. In my current home environment we are pretty fortunate we have water tanks to reduce our use of freshwater we have solar power to help reduce our use of electricity we also cook with mainly organic produce and we grow whatever vegetables we can. Whilst this is becoming a lot more commonplace we still have a long way to go in our communities. Like many parents I've decided to put my hand up to try and contribute to implementing sustainability, vegetable growing and cooking at my son's school, but the more I look into it I can see it's quite a large undertaking within a school and can be somewhat overwhelming which is probably why it is not implemented in many schools due to their funding and resources.
So since I was attending this training I thought I would collect as much information as I can to share with my readers and hopefully they will be able to think about how they could encourage their children's schools to do the same.
Throughout the day the Sustainable School provided inspiring training, talks, walks and presentations. The day begun with a talk by Erica Gurner of Human Nature Connect, a specialist in facilitating deep learning experiences with a focus on nature and wellbeing. Erica explained the importance of 'Nature Literacy Education' and as an expert in 'experiential learning' she elaborated on the many learning opportunities an 'outdoor' learning environment can provide. Experiential learning involves learning through participation, trial and error, and hands-on activities that lead to reflection and analysis. I have a background in education and managing RMIT University Business programs focussed on experiential learning so this was a topic I was excited to hear about implementing in such a context.
Visually there was a great deal to take in and so I've located at much of the photos from the day on our Pinterest page https://au.pinterest.com/LILYMagazine/school-garden-sustainability-tour/
If you are keen to see more about how the St MaCarten's school implemented the kitchen garden and became an award winning Sustainable School you can visit their website at
Teaching Nature Connection
Erica went on to explain that science and research often relies heavily on data and is rather devoid of nature, exploration and intuition. Her background was initially working in a laboratory and she longed for a more 'connected' way of researching. Erica discussed Einsteins frequent references to intuition and creativity and the importance of learning using our right side of the brain, our creative, imaginative, our intuitive selves.
One of the themes of the day was exploring how to create an awareness in children around what they can do to keep the earth 'well'. Creating that link between Sustainability (air, water, soil, food, health) and personal wellness, both spiritually and physically. Anholistic approach to teaching the sustainability of our planet and sustainability of ourselves.
Often we are too busy 'doing' things to stop and 'experience' the wonderment. Often learning and education can become overwhelmed with the doing, rather than the feeling, the experiencing, the awe and the passion. Sharing, reflecting and discussing your experience of nature also provides an opportunity to reflect and consider others perspective, learning from each other and seeing the wonderment through their eyes. For example seeing trees in Australia from the perspective of an international visitor. It's a vastly different perspective and a very valuable leaning opportunity.
As we delved more into the synergies between wellness education, sustainability and school gardens, the issue of Spiritual Wellness arose. Often the physicality of these teachings are limited to the tangible, however Erica explained the importance of helping children (and adults) to connect with their learning on a more spiritual plain. Exploring the philosophy of living true to ourselves, feeling a sense of belonging, feeling at peace, understanding 'who' they are, feeling empathy, feeling a zest for life, feeling the flow of life and energy, being in awe. The importance of appreciating and valuing, having an understanding of and feeling of purpose for all things, creating calm, having a sense of self, creating and feeling hope, developing self esteem, exploring inner feelings and creating 'Connection'. Connection to 'self', to 'others' and to 'nature'.
Leading on from this discussion I raised the issue of encouraging a shift back to the old days of playing in the rain, school hallways lined with raincoats for children to wear with gumboots and letting them go and explore in these conditions. Let them see and feel the power of nature, what nature does under different environmental conditions such as rain, snow, wind, rather than caging them in protective classrooms.
Learning Resources and Activities
Looking at the Sustainability Framework as outlined by the Department of Education via http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/services-and-advice/schools Erica suggests adopting a Sustainability program that is viewed with a ‘wellbeing lens’, by adding the wellbeing context, children can make a better connection to nature learning. This context assists them to make meaning of sustainability similarly to how adults do, the ‘wellbeing lens’ more easily can put it in context for children.
The challenge is guiding schools, children, parents and teachers to understand the importance of 'connection', 'wellbeing', 'spiritual wellbeing' and a NATURE CONNECTION.
Implementing programs in schools relying on curriculum, plus resources for example like the 'Stephanie Alexander Program' combined with resources for teachers and parents in relation to nature learning is always a big part of the challenges. Erica suggested resources by Coyote Mentoring who create learning tools that draw upon experiential learning for children. In particular the Coyote's Guide to connecting with nature for Kids of all ages and their Mentors, by Jon Young, Ellen Haas and Evan McGown.http://coyotesguide.com/
An obstacle is ensuring children who adopt a wellness and sustainability philosophy can continue those practices at home. In fact it's a critical aspect of the program to address long term environmental and social health. However how can we expect children to implement water recycling, waste recycling, organic vegetable garden growing and outdoor meditation immediately in each of their homes. We certainly need to explore how we can support these children to be the change makers of the next generation who are in fact teaching their elders the errors of their ways and developing a school learning community that are all committed to creating a sustainable future for the children.
Developing meaningful learning experiences is the key and our session explored examples that would be useful in engaging the children but also in engaging their parents, siblings and families, for example to generate experiences that:
-Create a zest and excitement around nature
-Making use of 'unexpected encounters' for learning
-Using the senses
-Talking about gratitude
-Tracking nature changes and animals
-Pretending to be animals to generate understanding and empathy
During our training Erica provided an example of relating to inanimate natural resources where learners are given an opportunity to select a rock from a collection and to feel, smell and look at the object and consider its past, its origins, how it may have been formed, where it might have come from. Then to give your rock a name and see if you can provide an empathetic relatable personality to it via its various attributes. It was reminiscent of my childhood days when everybody had a pet rock.
Engaging children with their natural surroundings can also be achieved through providing activities that encourage them to consider mapping the land, or observing maps of the land, the terrain and resources in the area, and the local flora and fauna species. Then taking it that step further and allowing them to wander off the tracks. Consider what takes place and lives in the unmapped areas of our landscape? Erica explains the importance of generating interest prior to launching into learning activities. Looking at ways to generate interest and excitement.
Implementing a School Sustainability Program
The second part of our day was presented by the host primary schools sustainability leader who explained how critical it is to maximise use of the land, even land previously deemed unusable. The school we attended had a significant natural creek (swale) running through the property that was often dry but necessary to retain for drainage of rain water runoff out to the bay. She explained that great effort and consideration was given to ensuring this was beautified and maintained with ingenious plants and that the water quality was monitored by a team of students who regularity checked levels as part of their sustainability explorations.
Rubbish bins in the yard were removed or replaced with very small bins and the wastage was significantly reduced. The introduction of wrapper free lunches also made significant improvements meaning parents were encouraged to buy lunch and snack foods in bulk and place in reusable containers reducing the individual wrapped snack foods.
One example of a program that may be accessed to assist with sustainability implementation and rating was the Resource Smart Sustainability Victoria Program at http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/
The resources available via the website provide significant guidance on implementing sustainability practices in the home, business' and schools. Schools have the opportunity to apply for certification for various sustainability ratings from 1-5 however it was highlighted that the paperwork necessary and record keeping is somewhat onerous. A possible solution would be to ensure from the outset that each step in the process of sustainability implementation is mapped against the certification criteria and an internal audit and evidence collection and record keeping system would need to be maintained, knowing in advance what evidence needs to be collected would save considerable time later.
Some of the areas of focus under the Resource Smart Schools Program are:
• Recognition -
Sustainability Certification and the ResourceSmart Schools Awards recognise and reward school activity.
• Savings -
Save on energy, water and waste bills – and greenhouse gas emissions.
• Learning -
Students learn take-home lessons about sustainable actions as required by the Australian Curriculum.
• Sustainable schools -
Schools learn to operate more sustainably, reducing costs and minimising their impact on the environment through efficient resource use.
• Community - it provides practical support for schools and communities to live and work more sustainably and to support other schools and environmental partners along the way.
There are various sustainable practices that can contribute to achieving a 5 star rating or to simply improve the schools sustainability ethos. These include:
-Using E glass that helps reduce heat loss
-Building awnings and pergolas that maximise solar sun warmth in winter and cooling through shade in summer
-Rain water collection for use in toilets
-Use of non-toxic products in the
classrooms, office and common areas
-Sourcing locally produced materials
-Use of renewable materials
-Selection of non toxic paint
-Looking at air flow in buildings and heat and cooling loss through doors and windows
-Planting of local species of plants in the gardens and use of plants to create a cooler Eco system in the school, shade in summer and protection in Winter.
The centre contained a covered pergola flanked by two kitchens, one with a serving and preparing area and another similar to a butler’s pantry, complete with washing facilities for kitchen linens. The long central table serves as a dining table for the children and visitors to experience their cooking as well as working and preparing tables.
The hot house is maintained by the students and cuttings are taken from plants and trees to grow the cuttings and raise seedlings ready for tree planting days.
The landscaping across the school and the BBQ area complete with pizza oven was created by RB Landscapes Richard Ballemo. http://www.rblandscapes.com.au/portfolio_st_macartans_primary.php
Richard Bellemo is also responsible for the significant grounds landscaping Including the previously mentioned the landscaped natural outdoor plant water purification garden which is constructed in a swale where the water runoff is cleaned naturally prior to it returning to the sea.
Continuing the natural connection indoors the children can enjoy spiny leaf insects in each of the classrooms. They are able to contribute to the care of the insects as well as learning about their rather bazaar lifecycle of the females laying eggs which hatch into all females unless there is a male with her fertilising them and creating both male and females.
Management and incorporation of the sustainability into student participation was achieved through a Student Leadership Structure where a leadership team of students is allocated from each class level to a particular aspect of the Sustainability Program being:
Sustainability Team - Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Social Justice Team - Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Garden Club - Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Biodiversity Team - Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Water Team - Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Energy Team - Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Recycling Team - Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Clean living Team - Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Each term the reps could be changed to allow every student to take a leadership role on a different aspect, or possibly they could work in pairs in the class. The structure provides an opportunity for the kids to show their class the progress of each aspect and to participate in the implementation. For example the Recycling Team can create the collection bins and signs, then help empty and sort waste and provide feedback to the classes on goals. The Energy Team can monitor class temperatures, heat and cooling management, create posters, arrange a no power hour event, run a peddle power movie event. The Biodiversity Team might look at the plants and animals endemic to the area and help educate the school on how to sustain these. The Social Justice Club might look at Environmental issues impacting on quality of life and help educate their classmates. The Clean Living Team might look at nontoxic, natural and organic options for the school and gardens and research these for implementation.
With the groups in place the possibilities for learning are endless. The teams can also lead the school in creating and working towards achieving targets such as reduction of paper, reusing paper, shredding for compost and weighing the rubbish collected to see how much they have shifted from land fill to recycling. Some hard waste items can be donated to charities, and other items such as printer cartridges may be recycled.
Learning resources for growing and cooking can be obtained via the The Stephanie Alexander ProgramFind resources here
In addition the resources for Early years has just been released providing guidance for teachers of the Prep-Grade 2's. Find respurces here
The key to implementing any sustainability and kitchen garden is to adopt it as a community project. It has long term results and the implementation is not going to happen overnight. With that in mind it's achievable.