Our Sustainability Journey

25th May, 2023

At Singleton Heights Pre-School we have always been keen to recycle and promote sustainability long before it was included in the National Quality Standards. We always separated our recycled waste, had several worm farms, dotted the environment with 2nd hand furniture, used recycled paper and collage and included loose parts in our indoor and outdoor programs. As a service, we strive to improve in all areas, so our sustainability practices have improved over the years and, our journey continues.

I am a member of our local “Tidy Towns Committee” and am actively involved in organizing “Clean up Australia Day”, “National Tree Day” and our local road cleaning program. This involvement affords me the opportunity to network with other proactive members of our community. I urge anyone with a passion for protecting the environment and sustainable practices within their lives to join local organizations and become involved. I always say in relation to volunteering “you give, you get”. You get back far more in the friendships, connections, and real-life learning.

As a service, we have a committed Educator who engages in the role of “Aboriginal Community Liaison and Program Mentor”, and we decided that sustainability was such an important issue, that we created the role of “Sustainability and Environmental Program Mentor”. Due to my interest and passion, I was keen to take on this role, supporting other Educators, as well as the Educational Leader, on this ever-evolving journey. These roles have intertwined as we engage with a local Elder and take the children on excursions on Country where they bushwalk, view Aboriginal art and learn about caring for the environment from a cultural perspective. We are also fortunate to have a natural bushland and park area adjacent to the Pre-School and the children engage in regular nature walks and learning.

Being an 80 place, 4-unit service, each of the rooms have an independent program where they document learning in relation to sustainability within their room, while the outdoor program documents engagement in the outdoor area.  I reflected on the need to create a record which reflected the learning across the service and recorded our journey. I established a large art book which is always on display for the families, children, Educators and visitors to explore. This is also a comprehensive document which is linked to our Quality Improvement plan as evidence of our practices, unique, initiatives, program inclusions, family engagement and reflective practice.

To support the maintenance of the record, Educators add programs, reflections, photos, learning stories throughout the year. A collaborative effort, that everyone has been keen to be involved. I have also liaised closely with the Director and Management Committee as we have engaged in many projects in recent years, to build on sustainable practices. These projects include:

  • the installation of a 3rd water tank, which we connected to our playground watering system
  • the purchase of 2 recycled plastic platforms, one being used with resources in the playground and the other as the floor of our recently constructed “zen area”.
  • Passionate to ensure our goal to install solar panels at the Pre-School was achieved, I project managed the installation of 45 solar panels and monitor our usage and savings, through the use of an app.
  • the purchase of 3 worm sub-pods which were installed in each of our vegetable gardens. We are still farming the original standing worm farms which produce a by-product which we bottle and share with our families as garden fertilizer
  • Ensuring the new rules of zero plastics were shared and followed
  • A further connection was made during 2022, with a local community group, “Singleton Slow Foods”. The volunteers collect fruit and vegetables which would otherwise go to waste in our community. They have pick-up point for interested community people, but we were very fortunate that they delivered to us most weeks, with the food being used in food experiences with the children and shared with families. We received boxes of apples, oranges, mandarins, lemons, avacado’s, and pumpkin.
  • Our families supported the collection of jars for Red Cross, for one of their Christmas projects.
  • The creation of a food pantry which families donate to.
  • The creation of a “Book Swap” library.
  • The planting of 3 citrus trees in a newly created area of the playground
  • Building on learning resources which are included in room programs and group experiences including sustainability books, puzzles, and games
  • Re-invention of our music wall and camp kitchen in the playground, using 2nd hand materials
  • Using succulents and local drought tolerant plants in our gardens
  • We engage in a partnership with Glencore Ravensworth Open-Cut mine, growing seedlings for their rehabilitation program. They supply the Pre-School with a greenhouse, sprinkler system soil and native tree seeds which the children care for until they are 10cm in height and sold to the mine for their rehabilitation program. Some of the seedlings were also used by the children late last year. During our excursion to one of Glencore’s farms, where they were able to learn about protecting and rehabilitating the environment and planted the seedlings they had helped to grow and care for.

An important part of our service sustainability philosophy is not only practicing recycling but completing the circular economy by purchasing products made from recycled materials. We have researched and purchased play platforms in the playground and star pickets made from recycled plastic, as well as craft items, play resources, outdoor mats and furniture made from recycled or sustainably sourced materials.

As a service we value our collaboration with families. We share our programs and daily experiences, include a sustainability report and educational materials in our service newsletters, invite them to engage in surveys and encourage their involvement in projects.  After reading about his daughter learning about solar power and our panels, one parent recently offered his skills to use his drone to video our building. This showcased our solar panels, and, was a wonderful opportunity to extend on the children’s learning. The amazing video, prompted us to include it on our website, to highlight our commitment to sustainability as well as highlighting our brilliant outdoor environment. Families and staff bring in books for our book exchange, recycled materials for art and craft, wood for the woodwork shed, 2nd hand Pre-School clothes to be sold at a reduced cost, take our soft plastics to the waste management facility and donate food to our food pantry.

The children share learning in their home environment and support the education of their families, as evidenced by the families sharing with us, the sustainable messages and practices the children share with the. We have had photos, emails and conversations from families on outings or holidays and they are collecting rubbish on the beach, or, they’ve taken a turn off the highway so their Pre-Schooler can get closer to see the wind turbines and take a photo, to email to their teachers. Imagine a generation of children who are this interested in, and committed to sustainability.

Our service has many ongoing partnerships within our local community, one of them being as an entrant each year in our local, annual “Garden competition” through the “Tidy Towns” Committee. We have been entering for over 10 years and have achieved many awards in vegetable garden, novelty pots, sustainable and Educational facility categories. Many different Educators have joined the local group at their annual presentation evening where we network and build relationships with local community members young and old, schools, Council representatives and local business owners who are sponsors of the event. Entering awards such as this encourages us to reflect on our practices, environment, relationships and knowledge and plan areas for review or improvement.

Due to the continued improvement of sustainable practices the Pre-School was nominated by our local Tidy Towns Committee as the representative in the Educational Facility section of the “State Tidy Towns Award – Sustainable Communities 2019”. We were proud and excited when we won in the “Schools Achievement Award” in the “Population Category D – 12 001 – 23 000”. We were again nominated by The Singleton Tidy Towns Committee as part of the Singleton bid in 2022. We placed 2nd in this year’s State award and were a part of Singleton winning the State award. Three of our Educators accompanied Singleton Tidy Town committee members to the State wards in Albury and again to the National awards in Mornington. This was a wonderful achievement for the Pre-School, an opportunity to link with a community Committee and Singleton Council representatives, and a great chance to network with like-minded, passionate people from across Australia and bring new ideas back to our service. A highlight was our creation of a slideshow about the Pre-School, which we presented at the National awards weekend, showcasing our sustainable practices and environment.

We have been successful annual applicants through the Ashton Coal Community Support Program for many years and they contributed $10 000, which was half of the cost of the installation of our solar panels. We shared photos of the finished process with Ashton and, in 2022, our project was chosen by Yancoal to feature in their National Annual Report. The article showcased their financial contribution, our commitment to sustainability, their support for renewable energy education and our use of renewable energy.

As a service, learning, and experiences with sustainability, needs to extend beyond our fence. This includes visiting local natural environments.  We often explore the natural environment behind our service and the children are keen to use gloves to clean up any rubbish they find in the parkland. We look at the drains and learn about the journey of the rain to the ocean. The children are shocked to see rubbish in the drains, knowing it will end up in the ocean where it endangers marine life. Visit a farm using sustainable practices or engage with your local Council’s waste facility and garbage service provider, who often have great educational resources for Educators and families. In my ongoing search for information and ideas I have joined Early Childhood sustainability pages on Facebook and engaged in online training to increase my knowledge.

Sustainable practices are embedded in our practices and learning, which are key areas of the Early Years Learning Framework. The children are connected to their world and a sense of belonging and compassion is fostered as they learn about and actively participate in caring for our environment. The children and Educators engage with information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking. We participate in clean up Australia Day and National Tree planting days and the families are provided with the information so they can also participate.

I believe it is crucial that we set the example. If we as Educators are involved and passionate, the children and families will be enthused.

Written by Angela Fuller (Early Childhood Educator) in collaboration with Neisha Dean (Director)