Teaching kids to care about the environment

Priya’s article

There’s a weta hotel, native trees and bush, as well as shade trees and vegetable gardens at Newbury School.

It’s all part of the character that makes the rural school, on the northern outskirts of Palmerston North, one of Horizons Regional Council’s enviroschools.

The idea is that pupils will think about the environment and will take their ideas home with them.

The vision is “creating environmental leaders commited to preserving and improving our environment for future generations” Newbury School teacher Scott Higginson says. He also looks after the Enviroschools programme at the school.

“I have an enviro team I work with each week on projects like plant propogation, the vegetable garden and we have planted 16 new trees in the past year.”

Higginson says part of his job is to get the teachers and pupils all on the same side.

“We want students to want to do jobs, not be made to. It is teacher-guided but student-led. ”

He says the guilding principles of the enviro schools are people, physical surroundings, programmes as well as curriculum and processes.

“My class last year were doing programmes and curriculum. They went with real issues around the school. They focused on paper, litter, water and energy use.

There were Fridays when all the lights were turnded off, and the air conditioning went off as well. It was to save power.

Then there was a group that sold raffle tickets and raised the money to buy a tank to catch roof water.

Before, Higginson says, the water used to run off and not be used.

“By the time children leave the school, they might have worked on the same enviro issues for four years, so they take real ownership of them.

“Instead of us saying you should weed the garden, or plant this tree, they make the decisions themselves. They lead and it’s things they want to do. We’re trying the change the culture rather than tell people to do things.”

Horizons environmental educator Helen Thomas says there are 28 schools that are part of the enviroschools throughout Manawatu/Whanganui. The Enviroschools programme, which also runs in other regions around the country, has replaced the controversial Green Rig as Horizons’ method of taking environmental education into schools.

Higginson says the pupils were “dubious to start with, but we spent a good three or four weeks with the teachers on what we wanted to achieve”.

He says many kids thought the envoironment was just about plants.

“We made sure we talked about water, air, organisms, as well as plants and natural surroundings. And it’s all linked. It’s not really your environment unless you’re interacting with it.”

He says once the kids got that it was about them and their surroundings, they thought it was cool.

“Like the group that raised money to buy the water tank. They sold raffle tickets, priced up different tanks, then they ordered one. So they have seen the process right through. Their next step will be that they look at what they’re doing in their own home.”

Pupils come from rural surrounds and Newbury School is close to Palmerston North, so there are urban kids as well.

“The pupils are starting to get that it isn’t just a one-off thing. What they do will effect people in 10 or 15 years.”

Higginson says for the pupils who are 5 or 6 years old, it is about making sure their lunch wrapping goes back in their luunch box, and they pick up any litter. Tasks got more complicated as children get older.

Higginson says they have planted native trees around the grounds, a bush area with paths and a bridge, a bird bath, and seating and more.

“We’ve got a cow, designed by the children, a proper aluminium cow made by a parent, called Skyla the Cow. It’s face opens up and the kids have to search for it around the school and read the day’s message.”

There is a recycled wooden garden shed, built by the pupils, with teacher help.

“We’ve got a butterfly habitat the kids built. And lots of bird houses.

” The enviro-team looks after the gardens, but each class on their own also undertakes environment projects. So there are probably about 10-15 things on the go all the time.”

Already built and used are the weta hotel – pupils bring them from home and set them free in the log – areas of native bush, a bridge, shed and shade trees.

Toby Collis, 10, was helping in the vegetable gardens when the Manawatu Standard visited last term.

“We’ve made a cow which has messages put in it to look after the environment, and lots of things at school. And we’ve made these vegie gardens,” Tony says.

Fellow pupil Sophie Bell thinks the school children will carry on with the vegetable gardens and propograting and growing trees.

“I reckon it’s a really good idea for children to learn how to grow trees and that. It’s really fun to do it – the vegie gardens and help trees to grow.”

Both she and Toby say things learnt at school, get taken and used at home.

“I try to do the gardens and try and grow different flowers and trees at home,” Sophie says.

Toby says some special play spaces have been made as part of the enviroschool at Newbury.

“When you see people at lunchtime and morning tea they enjoy playing in the trees we’ve planted and the paths we’ve made.”

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Teaching kids to care about the environment

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