Nurturing Eco-Awareness from a Young Age

By Natasha Sim, Parents Avenue’s Writer

How empowering it is to think that our children could live in a world with no pollution, zero waste and clean air with thriving ecosystems. That is, if we set our minds to it. As the world speaks louder of a greener Earth in the face of climate change, it is only natural to expect that environmental education should take precedence in classrooms across the globe. 

Driven by the instinct to nurture global citizens that care about our world is the reason why teachers at Kinabalu International School (KIS), Rebecca Holmes and Laura Marriott have placed emphasis on teaching students as young as 6-years-old about the environment. For Laura, who teaches primary students, this has culminated into the schoolwide extra-curricular EcoWarriors Programme. 

 

Laura, together with secondary school teacher Louise Davis founded the programme in a bid to raise awareness on environmental issues. In the 18 months since, over 100 students out of the 470 enrolled in KIS have helped cleaned up Kota Kinabalu’s beaches on three separate occasions in the past ten months. “With the first beach clean-up at Tanjung Lipat, we managed to collect about 100 kilos of waste,” said Laura. 

Other than that, primary school students were involved in a six week Snackbox Challenge that required them to collect and measure the amount of plastic waste from their lunches. Scores were recorded and the classroom with the lowest amount of plastic waste wins. According to Laura, more kids were carrying lunch packed in paper bags instead of plastic after the Challenge. 

These efforts, including another one where students made Earth Day Promises, encourage children to think critically about their responsibility towards Mother Earth and its inhabitants. More importantly, it prompts crucial conversation about these ever-pressing issues. It is encouraging to learn that a seven year-old can pledge to stop using plastic straws, while another can think of using less water when showering to prevent more chemical run-offs into our rivers. 

As for the secondary school students, the EcoWarriors Program prompted some to start their own recycling, upcycling and repairing initiatives. These include making recyclable trays to replace broken plastic trays used widely in primary school classrooms. The teenagers have also made a few educational visits to the Marine Ecology Research Centre (MERC) at Gaya Island to deepen knowledge on conservation issues. 

Never too early to start learning

 

According to Rebecca, environmental topics are never too difficult to understand for kids of all ages. More often than not, we as parents and educators are the ones that hesitate on teaching these topics as we underestimate our children’s capabilities to understand big concepts. In Rebecca’s Year 2 classroom, the six to seven year-olds learn about natural life cycles, biological food chains, marine and wildlife conservation, deforestation and more. Aptly, the classroom she teaches have named themselves the Borneo Wildlife Warriors.

 

“I’ve often told the specialists and scientists that come into the classroom to not hold back when they present,” Rebecca says. Amongst others, these specialists were wildlife biologist and CEO of the Borneon Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) Dr Wong Siew Te, Otter Conservation Officer of the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) Ms Leona Wai, and Scientific Advisor of DGFC Dr Milena Salgado Lynn. As part of the specialist presentations, the children have had exposure to images of turtles stuck in fishing nets and animals harmed by poachers. Images that would make anyone squeamish.

 

The no-frills approach is can be mind-blowing for the children. In fact, all of this dialogue, she says, takes place as part of the enquiry-based syllabus meant to actively engage the children in asking questions about the world. And have led to the children stirring up some interesting conversations back home. “Parents have reported to me their kids sharing tips about what they can do at home to live more eco-consciously,” said Rebecca. 

 

From left: Casper, Simon, Helle and her twins Aidan and Elliott with their Wild Bunch Bag

Helle Enderby’s children are a testimony to environmental education inspiring action. According to Helle, her children Aidan and Elliott, both Year 2 students at KIS, came home one day asking, “Mommy, what can we do to save the turtles?”. 

Motivated by their dedication, Helle and the two boys brainstormed a way to raise funds for BSBCC, as well as marine conservation organisation Scuba Junkie SEAS. The result is the Wild Bunch Bag, a reusable cotton tote bag featuring pictures of endangered animals hand drawn by the twins, along with the help of their younger brother Casper. 

 

“We have always been a family that love the outdoors and nature. So when the kids started coming home even more excited about animals, plants and the environment, it seemed only natural that we do something about it,” said Helle. 

So far, Helle’s sold 100 Wild Bunch Bags with more orders coming in. She claims the campaign to be a “proud Mummy moment” for herself, and for her children a wonderful achievement. 

Raising an entire generation of eco warriors
 

It is entirely possible for environmental education to be weaved into classroom curriculum by introducing relevant topics. With the topic “Wildlife” as the theme for Rebecca’s current Year 2 term, children are able to write essays about how a sun bear might feel when its habitat is destroyed. 

In terms of numeracy learning, this could also mean that they would learn something such as measuring the size of an ant colony. 

 

Meanwhile, Laura uses more community-based approaches to teach students how to “save the world” with the EcoWarriors Programme. Future plans under the programme include the children planting and managing an entire edible garden, as well as selling produce from that garden. Naturally, building a compost pit would be part of the plan as well. 

“Big goals like ‘saving the turtles’ are great for kids to imagine, but I find it really important that we teach children to contribute in small ways,” Laura says. This would be more beneficial in the long-run as it becomes a habit for the children to make eco-conscious choices daily. 

 

Depending on the Year the children are in, these topics may vary and the concepts get progressively more complex. But the aim remains the same – to raise a generation capable of thinking about environmental issues in depth. And for them to be able to incorporate environmental best practices in their daily lives. 

 

To find out more about Kinabalu International School, kindly visit their website at www.kis.edu.my

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