As Perth has sweltered through its hottest summer on record since 2012, the eastern coast has been battered by unprecedented rainfall and flooding, drawing Australia’s attention to the realities of a changing climate. In recent years, sustainable development and environmental understanding have become an important part of the Australian National Curriculum, with a cross-disciplinary approach to the topic bringing together a range of subject areas, skill sets and perspectives.
“Education for sustainability develops the knowledge, skills, values and world views necessary for people to act in ways that contribute to more sustainable patterns of living. It enables individuals and communities to reflect on ways of interpreting and engaging with the world. Sustainability education is futures-oriented, focusing on protecting environments and creating a more ecologically and socially just world through informed action. Actions that support more sustainable patterns of living require consideration of environmental, social, cultural and economic systems and their interdependence.”
The global workforce of the future is likely to involve the development and expansion of new(er) industries, as our energy sources and cultural priorities shift, with many businesses already implementing a range of sustainability initiatives. As such, adaptability and environmental skills that are transferrable to a range of industries will be an important part of the future generation’s professional toolkit.
We have previously looked at the importance of student-led investigation for teaching students and our tutors frequently incorporate student-led learning and hands-on activities to engage and extend students. The focus on sustainability in schools often revolves around encouraging this, with students investigating, being creative and working both independently and as a team, with projects that involve identifying a problem, brainstorming solutions and inventing new ways to create sustainable systems. This is often a great way to link different subject areas and engage students by showing them the real-world application of the concepts they learn at school – combatting the age-old question of ‘when will I ever need to use this in the real world?’
There are a range of ways you can encourage this type of open-ended learning about sustainability and the environment at home:
Learning How Things Grow:
What conversation about environmental sustainability would be complete without discussing gardening! A great project to help students develop their investigative skills is allowing them to create their own garden in a corner of the backyard – particularly, a veggie patch so they can reap the spoils of their hard work! This involves researching different plants, herbs and vegetables and what they need to grow effectively (season, water, type of soil, space), developing a plan to manage these needs, and then sticking with it and taking responsibility.
It’s good to look at your garden as part of a larger ecosystem – your local environment, as that is exactly what it is! Students can work on implementing ways their garden space can ‘give back’ to the environment they live in, with some hands-on projects like building a bird feeder (perhaps from materials already around the house), building an ‘insect home’ for tired bees who have travelled too far from their hive, and perhaps even learning about how plant choices can have a great impact on local wildlife (with colourful, native plants enticing and nourishing bees and small birds).
Getting the waste produced in your home out of landfill is a great way for students to think more about waste management more broadly. Learning about the composting process and starting up this system in the home is a great sustainability project. A lot of local councils are encouraging this, so a trip to your community centres to gather information on how to get started can also help your child feel like part of their local community.
Getting children involved in spring cleaning and organising helps take a load off parents’ shoulders, but such a necessary household chore can also have a sustainability spin to it – what things can be donated? What can be re-used, perhaps in a new way? How much of what we own do we use regularly? How sustainable are our material possessions and if not, can we think of alternative choices for the future? Are there any ways we can change our buying habits to better reflect our actual needs?
Analysing Carbon Footprints:
Involving children in the discussions about power and water use teaches real world skills they will need in the future for their own household management (and can also help save a bit of money for families!). Little challenges like turning off lights and having shorter showers can be created to help minimise power and water use in the home, and help children to think more intentionally about their actions. For a bigger project, children can learn how to calculate their household’s carbon foot print and plan some creative solutions to minimise it.
Documenting Flora and Fauna: Hikes and exploration around your local community can be a fun opportunity to learn more about the animal and plant life native to your home. Students can use a camera to document specimens and then spend some time researching (or joining local bird and plant watch groups) to determine the species! Often scientists need information on ecosystems and biodiversity, and may have enlisted the public’s help to gain that information, so it’s worth seeing if that is the case in your area so the project can have a scientific benefit as well!
Environmental Stewardship: Park rangers, Indigenous elders and wildlife sanctuary workers are a great resource for learning more about our social responsibility for the environment, so participating in guided walks, visits to local environmental centres and Indigenous-run workshops can be a good weekend family outing.
Communicating and Advocating: After learning more about the specific environmental needs of the neighbourhood, children can learn more about how they can use their voice on the issues they care about, by writing a letter to local government officials explaining what they have learnt about the environment, what problems they have identified and some sustainable solutions they want to see implemented in their community!
You can find some more fun, sustainability activities here: