Early Years Update looks at the importance of environmental wellbeing in supporting the five outcomes of Every Child Matters

A new report from the Sustainable Development Commission entitled Every Child’s Future Matters looks at the contribution sustainable development can make to the successful delivery of the five outcomes of Every Child Matters (ECM). Sustainable development is a way of thinking about how we organise our lives and work so that we don’t destroy the precious resources of the planet.

Every Child’s Future Matters

Every Child’s Future Matters makes a strong case for the need to consider sustainable development as a fundamental requirement underpinning children’s wellbeing. ‘Children’s environmental wellbeing – their daily experience of living and learning in the environment around them, and their options and opportunities for experiencing a healthy environment in the future – is a critical factor in their overall wellbeing.’ This is a statement which many early years professionals will relate to from their own experience of what constitutes high-quality learning experiences for the children they are responsible for. Opportunities to play outdoors every day, to engage with the environment in all weather conditions and to build an understanding and appreciation of the natural world are experiences which all young children are entitled to.

Katrina Foley’s article, ‘Shall we take a risk?’ highlights the importance of providing an environment in which children can develop their autonomy and learn how to manage risk and challenge. Helping children to learn take risks in a safe environment is also one of the issues raised by the Staying Safe consultation. In the survey on children’s priorities, What Matters to Us, carried out in Newcastle Upon Tyne, which Sara Bryson describes also on this site, young children were very clear about what was important in their immediate environment:

  • more chances to play outside in open green spaces
  • less traffic
  • no litter, broken glass, derelict or boarded-up houses.

Research projects

Every Child’s Future Matters is based on the findings of two research projects carried out by York University and the New Economics Foundation at the end of 2006. The York University study looked at the existing literature on the impact of the environment in which children live on their physical and emotional health and wellbeing. It also considered the effects on their attitudes and opportunities and on opportunities for active participation. From this they drew a number of conclusions about the effect the environment has on children’s lives now and its potential to influence their futures. ‘…if children are to develop informed environmental concerns… they rely on education about the environment and on their own experience of the natural world. Such education and experience in childhood has been shown to have far-reaching effects on environmental attitudes and behaviour later in life.’ Researchers from the New Economics Foundation worked with representatives of nine local authorities to survey a range of local authority plans. Largely speaking they found that issues of sustainable development had not been considered at the time the plans were drawn up.

Recommendations for the future

The report makes a number of recommendations about how the delivery of children’s services could be reviewed to take children’s environmental wellbeing into account. This can be achieved at a strategic level through actions taken by the DCSF and by local authorities, but also relies on managers and early years professionals reviewing practice in their own settings and looking at ways of putting environmental and sustainable development at the core of their work. A range of practical advice on how to do this is available on the Sustainable Schools website, www.teachernet.gov.uk/sustainableschools, and in the publications listed at the end of this article. Ways of improving practice include reviewing how the school or setting operates in relation to a series of eight ‘doorways’. These provide starting points for looking at particular aspects of sustainability. The doorways are:

  • food and drink
  • energy and water
  • travel and traffic
  • purchasing and waste
  • buildings and grounds
  • participation and inclusion
  • local wellbeing
  • global dimension.

The types of actions and projects which early years practitioners can become involved in to address these issues include:

  • providing opportunities for children to grow and prepare healthy food
  • encouraging staff to think about saving energy and water
  • supporting walk to nursery/school campaigns
  • reviewing purchasing decisions to be aware of their environmental impact: Disposable or real nappies? Hand-dryers or paper towels?
  • setting a good example in recycling rubbish
  • paying attention to the upkeep of the indoor and outdoor environment
  • providing opportunities for children to express their opinions about the environment in which they live
  • publicising the importance of sustainable development to parents and the local community
  • becoming involved in a sponsorship or twinning scheme with a school or nursery in another part of the world.

All these will help the address the five outcomes of Every Child Matters as well as many aspects of the EYFS, particularly personal, social and emotional development and knowledge and understanding of the world.
Funding and grants for activities which support sustainable development are available from a range of sources, including the Eco Schools Programme. A useful list is available on the Sustainable Development website.

Strategic, Challenging, Accountable: A Governor’s Guide to Sustainable Schools

A Bursar’s Guide to Sustainable School Operation

available through www.teachernet.gov.uk

Every Child’s Future Matters – Sustainable Development Commission