Simon Fearnehough, founder and CEO of the Hideout House Company, which specializes in developing products for schools to help foster environmental awareness and sustainable thinking, contributes today’s blog post. Simon writes:
If we are going to make any significant difference to help ease the burden on our planet’s resources, then awareness about environmental issues and embracing social responsibilities has to come as second nature to this generation of school children. This blog is therefore intended to offer some ideas as to how you can creatively engage children, staff and parents in promoting sustainability, whilst at the same time fostering a keen knowledge of all things “green” within an educational environment. To do this, you need to be able to create an effective eco outdoor classroom.
The key idea here is engagement: “Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I may remember. But involve me, and I’ll understand”. There are now numerous websites offering free downloadable resources on environmental education, but in order for children to help us shift to a low carbon economy in the future, they need to be able to understand the issues by being involved in them. In other words, they need to “experience” the issues in a fun and engaging manner.
So it would be best to tackle the big four Eco schools issues: renewable energy, bio-diversity, recycling, and growing & healthy living.
Children need to witness and thereby understand how carbon-neutral energy is created from the sun, wind and water – so an idea would be to have a mini wind turbine and solar panel system installed within an outdoor classroom, where they can serve as educational tools rather than a power supply for the school. These could be connected to an easily accessible energy monitoring board with power sockets so that the children can see how much power is being created from these renewable sources, and so datalog this information for further course and study work. The power sockets can be used as an electricity feed for items such as laptops, visualisers, tablets, etc, so that children can appreciate using green energy created by the sun and wind as a power source for their outdoor learning exercises, rather than just plugging devices straight into the grid.
There could also be a pedal powered outdoor classroom where the children ride special dynamo bikes to create energy which is then converted into usable electricity. As part of this, you need to have a watt-o-meter monitoring and display system which allows the children to see that the faster they pedal, the more kilowatts of power they are creating. This information in turn relates to a simple wall mounted display board which shows how many kilowatts of power are required for typical everyday electrical items such as a kettle or laptop computer. Having pedalled hard for half an hour, say, and expended a lot of energy doing so, children will then appreciate on a far greater level that energy is not free or something that happens when we flick a switch.
We all know that we should recycle household items but within an educational context, what about creating a den which is made entirely out of recycled material which children can bring into school – for example an “’igloo den’ made out of re-cycled plastic milk cartons, or a water dam feature which demonstrates how water can be re-cycled time and time again and create hydro-electricity.
Growing and Healthy Living
A lot of schools now have dedicated planting areas, but if you wanted to extend this feature, you could add in mini greenhouses and a school shop whereby the children can sell the products they have grown to the parents and teachers.
You can start with a simple bird box and insect nest habitat, but if you wanted to study nature in more detail, you could add in nature watch retreats made out of willow, or mini ponds so that the children can go pond dipping and study the abundant pond life they find. Wild meadow gardens are also a nice, simple and cheap feature to add; as are living sedum roofs.
If schools are starting to work towards eco accreditations and want to develop innovative ways to deliver positive outcomes and involve the local community, then we can secure some sort of a better future where the children of today (the adults of tomorrow) will not have to face and deal with the inevitable challenges of climate change and depleted natural resources.