Environmental Education and Sustainability in Kindergarten: What is It and Why is It Important?

“If we really want children to flourish, we need to give them time to connect with nature and love the Earth before we ask them to save it” – David Sobel

Environmental education and sustainability are important topics, especially for Kindergarten students. The foundations for a conscious approach to our planet and the resources it offers us are laid at an early age. Observing nature and discovering the animal and plant world together are just as much a part of this important field of education as learning a sustainable way of life. Saving energy, avoiding waste and protecting animals and plants – there are many opportunities for young students to gain practical experiences with the topic of sustainability in kindergarten and nursery.

What does sustainability mean in kindergarten?

However, sustainability means more than just saving energy and avoiding waste. Especially in the elementary sector, the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) also includes teaching kindergarten children how to treat our environment with respect. Observing nature is a key part of helping children to internalize the respectful treatment of our ecosystem.

Why is sustainability important for children?

Learning about sustainable lifestyles and their positive impact on the environment is important to help children understand the effects of their own actions on the world around them. If you know how harmful or beneficial something is, you can decide against or in favour of it in the next step.

How do you explain sustainability in a child-friendly way?

The joint development of the concept of sustainability should be close to the children’s living and learning environment. Together with educators, resources such as water, food, energy and nature are explored and made tangible through observations and experiments.

How is education for sustainable development implemented in everyday life?

Many areas of everyday life in kindergartens are suitable for teaching sustainability: cooking sessions, projects about waste and litter, re- and upcycling craft ideas, encounters with the world of animals and plants, reading books about our planet earth and different habitats, and even small scientific experiments teach children about the complex challenges that our ecosystem faces every day. 

However, when introducing environmental issues and challenges to young learners the developmental appropriateness needs to be considered. Many topics like climate change, nature destruction or animal mass extinctions can be scary and terrifying. Teaching students in Kindergarten about the environmental crisis might indicate feelings like hopelessness or exceed their understanding. Therefore, the pedagogical focus should lay on fostering love for (local) nature and create conditions that allow children to become curious and care about their natural environment.