Green schools

Green Schools for Preschoolers

Publication source – Nastaŭnickaja Hazieta  

Author – Sviatlana Nikifarava.

The national environmental education project “Green Schools” is expanding: now preschool education institutions join in. The seminar for 70 teachers working with children aged 5-7 in kindergartens of the country, was held recently in the Academy of Postgraduate Education. During the meeting, the teachers had the possibility to assess the results of the environmental program “Green Schools” in Belarus, exchange experience and developments, as well as outline further environmental development in their institutions.

The “Green Schools” programme is an important component of the “Ecomonitoring" Project, funded by the European Union and implemented by the UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus. The project aims at effective and inclusive environmental management at the local level, environmental risks monitoring, exchange with environmental information, in particular, in the field of ambient air quality. The European Union has allocated EUR 3.5 mln. to implement the Project.

Halina Nikalajenka, Vice-rector for scientific and methodological work of the Academy of Postgraduate Education, Chairperson of the Public Association “Belarusian Pedagogical Society”, said: “We all understand the role of preschool and primary school age. This is the first stage in the system of environmental education. This is the age of emotion, especial susceptibility and great interest to the world of nature. It is therefore important that our preschoolers are included in the work in this area.”

The seminar program included the discussion of a number of relevant topics, including the main development trends in ecological education for preschool children in Belarus, technological aspects of the project “Green Schools” in preschool educational institutions, methods and forms of work with pupils and parents, interaction of preschool institutions and university education institutions on the issues of environmental education for children and etc.

I.V. Fiodaraŭ, Head of Center for Developmental Pedagogical Technologies, Academy of Postgraduate Education, highlighted the points that are most important in project implementation. In particular, speaking about one of the four program areas, biodiversity conservation, he invited the kindergartens not to mow all the grass on their territory, and to leave at least a small bit of the wild meadow, so that kids could watch the life of bugs and insects there, try to increase the diversity of species by creating an artificial pond or ecological path. He mentioned a very successful in his eyes idea of ​​the project “My favorite tree”, when children plant a tree and take care, watch it, and tell their kindergarten about it. As for water saving, one should start off not with global challenges; instead, one should start off with their private bathroom, where one should place a glass, which will help to save water significantly when brushing teeth; one should think about energy saving every day, for example, to have the fridge closed when you think over your menu.

Ivan Fiodaraŭ reminded that preschool institutions of the country are actively receiving the status of “Green Schools” and implementing assignments to receive this diploma. And so he invited the participants to keep in mind the most important thing in pursuit of the diploma, namely the children and their environmental education.

According to Irina Klevets, specialist in the field of education of the Project “Civic Engagement in Environmental Monitoring and Improving Environmental Management at the Local Level”, the management of the Project have been planning to extend the “Green Schools” project to preschool institutions for a long time now. And the fact that it was a relevant initiative was re-confirmed during the seminar in presentations of the experience in the sphere of environment of the heads of the kindergartens and their assistants. And it became apparent that environmental education is most often understood by teachers of preschool facilities in a one-sided way, because basically they talk about biodiversity conservation, while they talk about water and energy saving or waste management less often. There are some kindergartens, which only work in one of these directions, omitting the other ones. And it was the “Green Schools” project that enabled comprehensive environmental education, which will include all of these four directions.

The seminar participants were able to see how this program is being implemented in practice during a visit to a model institution nursery-kindergarten No. 137 in Minsk, which this year became a resource center for implementation of an integrated educational project “Green Schools”. The teachers demonstrated the kindergarten facilities and groups with environmental education, as well as the classes of the educational psychologist G.L. Abreŭka with the elements of ecological and psychological training, interactive game with the design project “Bielaruś maja siniavokaja” (My blue-eyed Belarus), classes with senior group pupils including studying species of birds on the territory of the institution using interactive equipment. Thanks to the project, the kindergarten now has an interactive panel with software and a multiboard with Internet access.

The institution places the key focus on practical activities for the pupils: observation, practical work on methods and resource and nature conservation activities, organization and implementation of educational projects, changing own behavior, conducting educational and environmental actions. For example, to minimize waste on the territory of the kindergarten, composting of organic matter (leaves, weeds) was organized. Recently, there was a contest among pupils and their parents for a best bouquet from autumn leaves.

Active work is being done in all sections of the program: studying the species of animals and plants, energy and water consumption, waste minimization, and in awareness-raising and environmental direction. Theoretical classes are held in the form of games, stories, explanations, reports, conversations. During this school year, a lot of activities are scheduled in one of the main partners of the kindergarten, the National Centre for Ecology and Local Studies. Thematic tours, activities for children, workshops and master classes for teachers will be organized there. The plan is to engage the pupils’ parents into the classes.

The presentation of the activities of the National Centre for Ecology and Local Studies was very relevant to ensure that participants have a clear idea of ​​their future work in the project, in order to ensure continuity of the environmental knowledge that they are giving to the pupils. The presentation covered the main areas of environmental education for children, including preschoolers. Thus, not all of the presented information may be implemented in your kindergarten. For example, a poultry yard with various breeds of chickens, flower gardens and dendrarium, experiments that may be conducted in there. However, it is possible to create a small mini garden of scents on a flower bed. Maybe a tour to the greenhouse with the exotics will not push for creation of the same greenhouse on the territory of a kindergarten, because of course the opportunity to taste the flavor of bananas or medlar berries grown in the greenhouse, or making ficus rubber requires for enormous resources and time, as well as relevant knowledge, but the teachers are very interested in the experience of growing tulips in pots. They were also interested in the technology of creating kokedama, flowers grown in a ball of moss. Therefore (if not this year, then next year most definitely) the preschoolers of the country will present their mothers with live flowers, not paper ones.

Zhanna Kazlovich, Head of the nursery-kindergarten No. 101 in Hrodna, said: “We, the preschool teachers, are well aware that one needs to take care of the world that surrounds us, save resources, our land. What we heard at the seminar from the experts, will help us in the future in planning the work in the sphere of “Green Schools”. As for me, I’m ready. The challenge that I see is that there are few publications on environmental education. Those authors and publications that are available, introduce children to the world of nature that surrounds us. We need to introduce the children to this world from a different perspective. To be specific, from all perspectives and taking into account the fact that our children are still small. We are the teachers inspired by the idea of ​​preschool education, but we do need support. We will be communicating all the information that you will give us. Most importantly, we know what are the NGOs that we may refer to and whom we can call. It is always important to timely ask a question to someone. We will meet again. I decided for myself, just like my colleague did, we will definitely try.”

When summarizing, Irina Klevets mentioned that project activities are not only about clear goals and outcomes. The general approach is also very important. A water body close to the kindergarten may serve different purposes. For some people it will be a decorative element, where one can plant individual flowers or settle ducks. While for other people it would be important that there will be birds flying in, that there will be insects emerging that one can watch. Landscaping and greening serve different purposes. As an example, the specialist mentioned colored stones that may demonstrate the desire to improve the area, but not the level of environmental awareness.

The knowledge and contacts that the teachers gained during the event became the key outcomes of the meeting. And at the end of the meeting someone said: “The schools are lucky to have biologists. In kindergartens we are the teachers and biologists at the same time. We do have the right not to know everything. However, we understand that we can always receive methodological support. We also understand that: who calls a potential partner first, will receive their support. Knock and the door will be opened.”