How to Teach Kids About Sustainability:

K-12 Sustainability Curriculum

Weather you have kids or not, I’m sure you know the power of early education.  Preschool through high school children gain essential math, science, reading/writing, social, and even some music or art skills.  With our changing world and increased recognition of living in a sustainable manor has come a new movement of incorporating equally essential skill on sustainability into the classroom as well!
While many of these sustainability skills are based in science, much of the invaluable lessons include ecology, the whole system approach, learned appreciation and understanding one’s place in the natural world – all deeply valuable lessons that support students understanding and ability shine in all fields.  Giving a child a fundamental education in sustainability practices fosters a child that understands the whole system, and affords them the great advantage of excelling at topics such as economics, design and technology advancement.
As a parent, teacher, or community member there are numerous ways to incorporate sustainability lessons into your local schools curriculum. 
Below is a specific example of an organization working towards building sustainable educational curriculum in local schools.  When reading the following, please ask yourself about the changes you would like to see to your local school and what you can do to make it happen.

Sustainable Schools Project, Vermont, USA

The Sustainable Schools Project (SSP) works with schools (around the world as well as in their own backyard) to cultivate responsible, informed citizens who are engaged in building (economically and environmentally) sustainable communities.  With sustainability integrated into their curricula, students learn and apply their understanding in ways that build a sense of agency and care. Their actions result in improvements in the quality of life for themselves, their schools, and their communities.  SSP believes that civic engagement and a service learning experience are important components of a 21st century education and they have a goal to help schools educate citizens who are engaged in building sustainable communities.

The SSP Vision

By introducing sustainability as a connecting theme, SSP helps:

  • discover students’ potential as citizens and learners
  • renew teachers’ vitality and coherence in their curriculum
  • create a space for community engagement within the school
  • inspire communities to improve the quality of life for everyone

This vision is carried out by the 4C’S

  • Curriculum Development
  • Campus Practices & Culture
  • Community Partnerships
  • Collaboration

Foundational BIG ideas that serve as the foundation to the sustainability curriculum:
  • Ability to make a difference: everyone has the ability to affect change or impact a system, community, self.
  • Change over time: all organisms/places/systems are constantly changing. 
  • Community: all communities involve nested economic, environmental, and social systems.  We need to understand the interconnections to come up with sustainable solutions.
  • Cycles: every organism/system goes through different stages.
  • Diversity: systems/places function because of variety.
  • Equilibrium: a state of balance.
  • Equity/Fairness: resources need to be shared to meet the needs of living things across places and generations.
  • Interdependence: all living things are connected.  Every organism/system/place depends on others.
  • Limits: every system has a carrying capacity.
  • Long-term effects: we can project that actions will have effects beyond immediate reactions.
  • Place: natural and human communities together make up one’s place.  Every place has its own needs and limits.
  • Systems: elements that affect each other and are connected through larger patterns.

How is this specifically incorporated into the K-12 educational curriculum?

In order to care for the world– from our own backyards to the other side of the globe—we must first allow children to know this place and fall in love with it.  In the early years, we engage children’s innate sense of wonder and natural curiosity as they explore our world through inquiry; the curriculum makes connections to relevant issues and to prior experiences.  This builds students’ content knowledge and understanding of the big ideas of sustainability.  As children grow, this strong foundation of connection to their place develops in a sense of stewardship. Through civic engagement and service-learning SSP can deepen students’ sense of responsibility, building on their knowledge, and eventually developing into habits of caring and action.

Global Partnerships include:
Learning and Ecological Activities Foundation (LEAF) for Children
Institute for Sustainable Communities
Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes
Facing the Future