Sustainability is an issue of global importance and at Treehouse we are working hard to help children realise the significance of caring for and protecting our environment. Educating ourselves, as teachers, has been a fundamental step in this process and I strongly believe that every educator has taken on this challenge. Together with the children we are learning so much about this important issue.
The National Quality Framework asks that each service take ‘an active role in caring for its environment and contributes to a sustainable future’ (NQS Standard 3.3). The organic garden at Treehouse is just one aspect of our plan to embed sustainable practices within the service and it is an important one.
In the Spring I remember how exciting it was to plant the sunflower and bean seeds in the garden beds with the Preschoolers and Toddlers. Every child was given several seeds and we discussed how far apart and how deep to plant them and what we would need to help them to grow. Watching little fingers push seeds beneath the soil and gently cover them over with dirt made me feel as though I have the best job in the world. Within a week we could see tiny shoots coming through the soil. A couple of months later there was no denying our tiny seeds were growing. Mary suggested we find some stakes in the garden shed to support the beans as they grew. All of the children were happy to help with this project as well as the general watering, weeding and fertilizing of our gardens.
As the months passed by we watched as our small garden beds began to resemble mini-forests. Our herbs had run wild, the blueberry bush had disappeared under the tight arms of the bean stalks, green tomatoes lined the Treehouse fence (longing for some warm summer nights to turn them red), zucchinis lay hidden beneath prickly leaves and giant sunflowers smiled down over our grand accomplishments, greeting families to the centre after the Christmas break.
Since the New Year we have enjoyed harvesting our fresh produce and using it in the kitchen for afternoon tea (although often the beans didn’t make it inside as suddenly everyone’s favourite morning snack was a bean or two, fresh from the stalk.) Over this growing period I have loved talking to the children about how and why our plants are growing, often reminding them that they were once tiny seeds, which we planted one Tuesday morning back in the Spring. Through these experiences children are learning to care for and appreciate the natural environment and observe the interconnectedness of living things (EYLF Outcome 2: Children are connected with and contribute to their world). I am sure I am not the only educator who has been surprised at the care the children are taking in the garden. They have learnt not to pick things before they are ready (most of the time!) and are determining the difference between weeds and vegetables by asking a teacher first. Even the flowers, tucked in amongst the vegetation, have survived the many months we have been learning in the garden. Children run their hands over and smell the flowers but it has been a long time since I have seen them be picked, which really is testament to the children and the respect they are showing for our garden.
But such is life that nothing lasts forever. When I walked into Treehouse a few weeks back I decided that the bent-over, wilting sunflowers, which had long since lost their yellow petals, had to go. It seemed like a gigantic job, but luckily I had lots of gardeners to help me.
We set to work cutting back the mint, pulling down the yellow bean stalks (enjoying the last few beans, of course) and cutting off the heads of the sunflowers (to leave for the birds to enjoy). The sunflowers, however, were not so easy to remove. Standing in the garden bed I pulled with all my might but they just would not budge.
I tried a few more times to no avail before calling in my reinforcements: 10 or so Preschoolers and a few toddlers. We all grabbed a hold of the bent-over sunflower and on the count of three pulled with all our strength. Even I was surprised when the gigantic sunflower finally began to move, reluctant to leave its comfy home but unable to resist the forces of the determined children! With a final pull the enormous roots of the sunflower emerged from the soil and (after picking ourselves up off the ground) we cheered and admired our hard work before moving on to the other sunflowers. Looking at the incredible root structure of this flower was another moment to remind the children of what had become of our tiny sunflower seeds, which we had spent many months caring for and helping to grow.
We are so excited for the new garden beds to arrive and the opportunities for learning that we will have in the new garden. Over the past few months recycling and compost bins have been implemented in each of the rooms which enables learning about sustainability to be embedded in our daily meal-time routines. These bins have been recently improved to reinforce the importance of what materials are going into them. Our ‘worm’ compost only takes fresh fruit and vegetables (with the exception of citrus fruits, which most children will tell you the worms don’t like!). This compost will be used for our organic garden as well as for our worm farm which the children have been learning to care for. We also have introduced a chicken bin which can take sandwich crusts and other food scraps such as rice and pasta (although we monitor how much is actually given to the chickens).
If you have any ideas for sustainable practices and activities we can introduce to the children we would love to hear your input! The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is a great children’s story about gardening which you might like to watch online https://vimeo.com/53757320.