Hello, my name is Gráinne Ryan and I work as Climate Action Officer for An Taisce’s Environmental Education Unit. This role involves training teachers, developing resources and coordinating Climate Action Week in October each year. My ultimate goal is to improve climate literacy and empower climate action in Ireland. My background is in Social Science, after which I completed the MSc in Environmental Policy from UCD in 2013. Since then, I have worked in environmental NGOs.
Being a Climate Action Officer is honestly my dream job. And being able to say that, nearly five years into this role, means I am a very lucky person. I get to be creative, think of an idea and watch it come to life. I enjoy creating climate games, testing them out on colleagues, talking to young climate activists and meeting educators from all walks of life.
In early 2020, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities known as ALLEA produced a report that identified a dearth of educational resources and programmes on climate change for early years’ education. It is also widely recommended by experts in the field that climate change education at the junior stage should focus on empowering collective action and solutions-oriented approaches at the local community level, shifting to a global justice focus at senior primary, secondary school and third level (ALLEA, 2020).
With this in mind, during the first COVID-19 lockdown, I produced Green-Schools’ first storybook ‘We Want Our Park Back’, written and illustrated by Oisín McGann, with support from the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications. I then proceeded to write a thematic resource to accompany the storybook, in consideration of the Aistear Framework (NCCA, 2009), and in response to multiple requests from early years’ educators participating in the online Green-Schools’ summer course ‘Climate Change, Science and Action’. Themes include exploration, travel, trees, energy, waste, water, citizenship, air quality and biodiversity – all wrapped up neatly in the Climate Action resource.
Education is key in responding to climate change (UNESCO, 2019), but how do we explore climate change with young children? The most important prerequisite to learning about climate change is helping children to appreciate the wonder and awe of the natural world. Go outside, give children more space to explore and express themselves, and I promise you, the learning that will happen is absolutely magical. Exploring your local forest, woodland, hedgerow, river, lake, beach or even urban parks can give our youngest citizens a deeper understanding of why looking after the environment is so important. Focus on tangible things like litter-picking in their playground or planting more trees like the characters in ‘We Want Our Park Back’.
At such a young age it is vitally important to first, focus on a connection to nature, second, aid children in developing an understanding of how human choices can affect the environment, and third, focus on positive climate solutions to empower children and impart climate hope for their future.
As educators, you are perfectly positioned to foster a sense of environmental stewardship amongst our youngest citizens and give them the lifelong gift of a strong connection to nature, through place-based learning. Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework asks us to help children grow up with a strong sense of well-being; proud of themselves, their families and communities; be confident and competent communicators; curious and resilient explorers; and creative thinkers (NCCA, 2009). I really hope that these resources help you achieve this in some way.
So, what’s next? I have a few goals for 2022, some of which are more realistic than others!
- Produce an animated video of Green-Schools’ ‘We Want Our Park Back’
- Create a junior version of Green-Schools’ ‘Cards Against Climate Change’
- Write a senior primary climate action resource for Green-Schools
- Explore funding options for the Green Pre-Schools programme
I would like to leave you with this: the job you do in educating and caring for young children in Ireland is so important and I honestly cannot express enough gratitude. Thank you.
Get a free A3 hardcopy of the Green-Schools Storybook here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FREEstorybookECI
A snapshot of Climate Change Education Initiatives in Europe: Initial findings and implications for future Climate Change Education ALLEA, 2020
Why we urgently need to teach and learn about climate change UNESCO, 2019
Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework NCCA, 2009