Environmental citizenship – not just recycling

Written by: HTU | Published:

We visit two schools that have worked to establish a culture of environmental citizenship and outdoor learning across the curriculum

The recent report The Outdoor Environment focuses on the challenge of establishing a culture of environmental citizenship in teaching and learning. Going further than just promoting recycling and responsible procurement sources, the report champions the concept that a reduction in outdoor, active learning has reduced awareness of the role children play in their surrounding and natural environment.

At Whitchurch CE Primary School in Herefordshire, they start outdoor, environmental citizenship learning at entry level, continuing it through until the children leave. For them, ensuring that children learn about their natural surroundings is crucial and an integrated part of the school day. Good practice and curriculum learning are combined to establish environmental citizenship as a way of life, rather than something to be learnt.

Teaching assistant Donna Powell explained: “We undertake many activities, both indoors and outside. We work hard to demonstrate the link between indoor activities and the effect they can have on the wider environment.”

The school recycles all its waste including fruit waste (which goes on the compost heap), clothes, shoes, bags, linens, toner cartridges and mobile phones. Some the of recycling provides a revenue to fund other projects as well.

Ms Powell continued: “The children do gardening most days, weather permitting, and produce is sold to parents and the local community to fund new seeds and exchange growing projects with our link school. We also go to our Forest School from reception up to year 6. Here they learn woodcrafts and work on team and confidence-building activities. Not only does this teach them about the environment but it has a direct impact on their learning in the classroom, in terms of understanding and also concentration skills.”

The school has an outdoor classroom that they call The Ark. This structure allows them space to not only conduct focused learning but to also encourage free-flow learning and play, from indoors to outdoors.

It is often used as a quiet place to read in a group or with individual children during literacy classes as well as being good for drama and storytelling. Music lessons are also popular there.

Ms Powell added: “It’s important to us that we start the children learning about the environment at an early age. We try to integrate activities within mainstream curriculum learning, so that they develop their understanding in such a way as environmental citizenship becomes a way of life.”

Danesfield Manor School in Walton-on-Thames combines best practice with dedicated learning on the subject. Headteacher Helen Chalmers explains the school’s approach: “We believe that developing an understanding of environmental matters within the context of the natural environment is a vital part of a modern education. Children must learn how to take care of their environment and the relevance that this activity will have for their children. It is all about helping them to find a small way that they can be involved and make a difference.”

The school undertakes a number of dedicated activities, including their “Keen to be Green” humanities topic and time within the PSHE programme. These classes are focused on the older children and build understanding about practical, do-able ways that the children can help the school to become greener.

However, it is building a sense of empowerment, right from entry level, that has proved successful at Danesfield, Ms Chalmers believes.

She continued: “It’s important to us that the children direct environmental citizenship activities, wherever possible. By asking the School Council to come up with ideas we’ve been able to run poster campaigns – focusing on shutting doors, switching off lights and recycling – as well as a number of other initiatives.

“Because the children feel that they have a voice right from the moment that they arrive at the school, they take a greater pride in implementation, rather than just coming up with the idea. This makes a crucial difference to whether children view this environmental ‘best practice’ as a way of life or just a temporary learning activity.”

Danesfield also uses an outdoor learning space for a wide range of classes, including those more traditionally held indoors. Mapping has been taught by asking children to find natural items to create “outdoor maps”, as well as using sand and water play equipment to learn about rainforests, movement and materials.

The school’s dedication to educating using the natural environment is clear from its trips to Kew Gardens and activities once back at school. Rather than learning about measuring inside, the children count the number of people that can encircle trees or steps it takes to get from A to B.

With both schools there is a common belief in the importance of environmental citizenship as a “way of life” rather than something to be taught directly. Teaching staff work with children to identify ways that they can explore their natural environment and learn about its role within curriculum, bridging the gap between classroom and outdoor space.

Further information

Download The Outdoor Environment, a white paper report written by The Learning Escape.

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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