Green Fingers

By Stuart Lancaster 2019-04-26 16:12:38

Little Scholar Academy is interacting with nature and getting muddy


Educators and parents have found that children can be inspired to become engaged with environmental issues at an early age. Curiosity about the planet and the best way to care for it is a natural stance for many kids. Teachers and parents can be on hand to shape this interest and plant the seeds of a more sustainable future in the minds of the next generation. At a basic level, learners can be exposed to concepts like recycling (the “Three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” etc.) to the fundamentals of cultivating plants and to a keener understanding of where they fit into the cycles of life and nature itself.

Exposure and conversation can work marvellous results. Taking children to the park doesn’t have to be only about leisure and relaxation – this can be a moment to explore the forces of life at work in the animals and plants all around them. Asking questions and encouraging that questions be asked is a great way to negotiate this.

The harder facts of life are bound to be confronted sooner or later. Some parents use the simple means of leaving out fruit for a time until it begins to break down as a way of illustrating a lesson about decay. Leaving out plastic materials to show how this substance doesn’t break down but lasts stubbornly will help to teach your children about the ultimate effects of all the plastic entering the food chain and the oceans.

At LSA they often use the phrases ‘good trash’ and ‘trash into treasure’. Have your children sort through your trash at home, thinking about what things could be recycled. Let them get creative with it – you could turn a cardboard box into a cave to store your ‘good trash’ before recycling, or repurpose everyday items into pots to grow seedlings in on a mantelpiece.

Good parenting involves plenty of situations that provide the basis for modelling responsible behaviour and encouraging an enquiring attitude about the Earth. If your child litters after eating, you can begin a conversation about what littering does to influence the environment negatively. The lesson of being less wasteful with energy use can likewise be attached to an insight about how power is generated. The narrative of pollution imperiling the planet does not have to be a source of undue anxiety for one’s children. Rather, if they can be made to feel their own actions, however small, can have a positive impact, they will be more likely to feel confident and ready to find out more.

The Role of the Third Teacher

At LSA they believe that the environment is the ‘third teacher’ (after teachers and students). Because of this we have weekly ‘Environment classes’ dedicated to engaging their students in the issues centered on ecology. Students may do activities such as making recycling stations within the school, then inviting parents to visit and encouraging families to bring in recyclable materials. They also celebrate Plant a Tree Day and Earth Day. This year our students recycled old and broken suitcases, painting them and planting flowers inside to create a beautiful garden in our playground. They will spend the rest of the year maintaining them.

LSA art scholars have been encouraged in a number of ways to make art that engages with environmentalism. Next month, during their conservation themed project their young artists will illustrate an endangered species that they would like to protect worldwide. Their focus will be designing a wildlife subject in its natural habitat featuring one of the four natural elements of their choice (fire, water, earth or air). Throughout the year the LSA's art studio perpetually encourages students’ visual free expression and independence in using recycled materials for all projects, both at home and school, with their ongoing ‘recycle contribution corner’.

They also have a food education program where students take regular trips to the farm, planting and harvesting their own crops.

One Step at a Time

For adults, changing behaviour takes time, practice and patience – this is no different for children. Building routines that engage children in friendly activities is key in incorporating a ‘climate conscience’ and sense of environmental protection into their everyday lives. This starts with exposure to real world issues and using critical thinking and problem-solving skills to come up with solutions. You could have your children come up with a list of problems they see in their home/school/community and begin to formulate original ways to solve these issues. Help them plan how they will incorporate some part of these solutions into their daily routine. Remember to encourage your children to follow through with their plans as much as possible, using questions to facilitate reflection and coherent actions to back up the wise words.

Thanks to Becky Cullen, LSA Academic Director.

Green Steps

In China a collective interest in the air quality of cities like Shanghai and Beijing has been steadily growing over the years.

In fact, so great is the concern over air quality that our obsessive focus on the topic may have generated a certain blindness to other health risks, making us overlook soil and water pollution. Moreover, it conspires with our increasing addiction to screens – a trend which keep us indoors, sealed off from the “harmful” outside weather.

These underestimated risks are covered by the umbrella term nature deficit disorder, which was coined in 2005 by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. Louv argued that the alienation from the natural world leads to a plethora of problems. So while parents might keep their children safe from toxic emissions they inflict upon them other ailments. The Children & Nature Network, a non-profit group which is dedicated to reconnecting children with the natural world, lists in its research a number of scientific studies which confirm that limited exposure to nature leads to an increased probability of several conditions, including depression and slowed cognitive development.

It seems therefore that parents face a tough choice: either protect their children from the modern environment or expose them to the dulling machines of digital indoor life. Richard Louv argues that the effects of the nature deficit disorder on our children will be an even bigger problem in the future: “An increasing pace in the last three decades, approximately, of a rapid disengagement between children and direct experiences in nature… has profound implications, not only for the health of future generations but for the health of the Earth itself.”

The solution is therefore surprisingly simple. In order to save the planet, we need to venture outdoors and seek direct encounters with nature. If we want to save our children, we need to connect them to nature; the more we connect them to nature the more likely it is that they might one day clean up the mess we have created so far. Victorian poet George Eliot articulated this well when she wrote, in the 19th century: “We could never have learned to love the earth so well, if we had had no childhood in it.”

At Green Steps we have made it our mission to connect children with nature and develop environmental knowledge. We teach hands-on natural sciences using the outdoors as a playground and laboratory.

Green Steps has developed a Montessori-inspired learning method "the triple focus curriculum", which builds intrapersonal, interpersonal and ecological intelligence all at once. Dr. Maria Montessori revolutionised the Italian education system a century ago with her pedagogical anthropology, when she introduced two central concepts: practical life activities and sensorial learning, i.e. daily chores and deliberate focus on our senses to build interest, maintain attention and achieve goals. A famous proverb pins down this learning approach:

‘Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; let me do it and I’ll understand.’

Statistics about daily time spent on screens vary between four to ten hours for average adults. The Atlantic therefore writes: ‘When it comes to children’s development, parents should worry less about kids’ screen time – and more about their own.’

A century ago, Dr. Montessori did not have to compete with ubiquitous screens, but she introduced yet another idea which is particularly powerful in early childhood education: modelling. It is the behaviour of the caregiver that is modelled by the child, in particular during the habit-forming early childhood years. As parents and educators we need to understand that with each hour our children see us hooked to a screen, we model a behaviour which they are most likely to follow.

Green Steps offers a curriculum that combines practical life lessons with sensorial learning. One example is Plastic Pirates, a half-day event which we implement in different locations in greater Shanghai – in forests, wetlands and along the coastline. Marine biologist Joan Elizalde teaches children through their own senses and in a playful way about the impact of plastic in our environment. While they are exposed to one of the most urgent environmental issues of the 21st century, they simultaneously gain a deep understanding of different ecosystems and their underlying processes.

Being well aware that it takes many more people to change our relationship with the environment, Green Steps has also started to offer monthly weekend courses empowering parents to guide children into a meaningful nature experience and design Montessori inspired activities which make children more environmentally aware. Reviewed activities are integrated with the consent of the activity designer to our growing environmental learning library. Join our Homegrown weekends and learn more.


How can your child recycle?

How to Start Recycling With Kids At Home?

1. Start Reducing and Reusing before Recycling.

Why does this banana need to be wrapped in plastic? First, kids need to learn that it’s ok to refuse plastic bags from the shops but to use reusable bags to cut waste generation. Explain to them the whys by using pictures of how the plastic harm our oceans for example.

2.Set Up and Decorate Your Own Recycling Bins at Home

Introduce the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) symbol and different materials for recycling. Ask your kids to decorate the bins to create fun activities to get them involved in the process.


3 Be a Good Example

Start by setting an example and making an effort to sort your waste consistently at home. Explain to your children what you are doing and why you are throwing a plastic bottle to a recycling bin instead of a trash can.

In regards to waste sorting and recycling, the government is launching new regulations that will take effect in 2019 and 2020. It will make it compulsary to recycle and this will become a regular part of your child's routine as it has done all over the world.

Children's awareness is raised through taking responsibility and giving them their own sorting bins with dedicated labels. Children can carry on sorting at home; and the waste can be deposited into the outdoors via proper containers.

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Keeping an open mind

We have seen how people have guided the way for the next generation to take greater responsibility for their environment. The challenges of raising a family in a sprawling city can sometimes seem heavy enough, without worrying about how 'green' our daily lives are. Yet, as we have seen in the creative methods above, even small steps taken in the right direction can be of great benefit. So keep your eyes, ears and minds open for opportunities to infuse your lives with a little more 'green'! Those changes can make a lot of difference.

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