EYFS activities - Education for Sustainability: All life long

Dr Diane Boyd
Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Continuing her series on the Sustainable Development Goals, Dr Diane Boyd examines how to provide a ‘life-long’ learning environment that takes in the whole locality

Education provides a way to escape poverty and achieve gender equality, peace and upward social mobility. So, Unicef’s fourth Sustainable Development Goal, ‘Quality education’, aims to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys ‘have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education, so that they are ready for primary education’.

The goal also advocates ‘life-long learning’, which is underpinned by dispositions such as resilience, confidence, taking responsibility and creativity.

To promote children’s understanding of education and support the dispositions that promote lifelong learning, practitioners can draw on New Zealand’s Te Whāriki approach to early learning.

Practitioners can also draw on the Reggio Emilia approach to early education, which promotes children’s rights and participatory learning through a rich, enabling environment. It is imperative that children are active participants in all aspects of pedagogy, including learning about sustainability.

Reggio pioneer Loris Malaguzzi inspired children to think of their environment as the third teacher. It is important practitioners make the most of their locality, as it provides real contextual learning experiences. The locality encompasses all the places and people within a community, from a wooded area to the high street.


In School Days Around the World by Margriet Ruurs and Alice Feagan, Ruurs begins by asking, ‘What is a school? Is it a building with classrooms? Or can it be any place where children learn?’ The children who are profiled live in places that span the globe. After sharing the book, identify the places discussed on a map.

Learning activities

  • Discuss the features of your locality with the children in your setting. Make a map of the area together, including routes for walks and photographs taken by the children.
  • A feature of the Reggio Emilia approach is documentation. So, develop community- or place-based books, using large A3 art pads. Encourage the children to make decisions about what to write in the books and which images to use.
  • Encourage children to reflect on community issues, such as organising a bin campaign or designing posters about the environment.
  • Place-based learning should be consistent and regular so children can see the seasonal changes and recognise the rhythms of the natural world. Take regular trips every week and spend the whole day outside if possible. Encourage parents, carers and grandparents to join you to share stories of the place.
  • Learn together about your local environment. Research its history, geography and culture and invite in grandparents or key elders to share stories of the past. Look at old photographs.
  • Look at images of schools around the world and discuss the different environments.
  • Use the correct terminology when describing plant life or building features.
  • Introduce and use a basic world map or a globe.
  • Tap into intergenerational learning and develop both practitioner and children’s knowledge. Introduce the children to the idea of culture
  • Share Umar by David Cahn, a powerful demonstration of learning through play and helping two-year-olds to follow their interests.

Learning links

EYFS overarching principle ‘Children learn and develop well in enabling environments’


Build upon SDGs 1, 2 and 3, which address poverty, hunger and health, by reading What’s for Lunch? How school children eat around the world by Andrea Curtis. Whether their school is under a banyan tree or in a sturdy brick building, all children need a healthy lunch to be able to learn and grow.

‘Unpack’ a school lunch, and you will discover that food is connected to issues that matter to everyone and everything such as climate change, health and inequality.

Learning links

Development Matters 2020:Provide hands-on experiences, ‘respond to new experiences that you bring to [children’s] attention’, and enable children to ‘Show more confidence in new social situations’ through engaging with the community and going on walks.



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