MaryK’s offers childcare for preschool and school aged children from 0 to 12. It includes nursery, Montessori, ECCE and after-school facilities. There are 12 staff members and about 70 children in the service. The Green Schools programme is most often run in primary and secondary schools in Ireland but MaryK’s is an excellent example of how to implement this programme successfully in a childcare setting. In 2022,MaryK’s were awarded their fifth Green Schools Flag for Biodiversity. We will explore how they went about this below.
Many schools will set up a committee with a selection of students and one or two staff members who meet as a group but MaryK’s went about things in a different way that suited working with younger children. All staff and children had a voice on the committee. They used preexisting activities like “Circle Time” to allow time for educators to discuss Biodiversity, give any updates on the plans for the theme and for children to give their input. Circle time is carried out regularly in every room so children are used to this time being an opportunity to listen and share their views. Children’s ideas and knowledge were captured using brainstorming charts and then shared.
An action plan was made to set out and keep track of the long term and overarching goals of the theme. In addition, actions related to the theme were included in each “room’s” weekly plan. This meant that the Green Schools Biodiversity programme became a regular part of the children’s schedule. As a weekly plan is created for each room, this meant that appropriate actions and goals could be created for each age level. There were lots of improvements made over the course of two years to the garden. Additional raised beds were created and planted up with a variety of wildflowers, fruits and vegetables. In the second year of the theme a greenhouse was added to increase the variety of produce that could be grown. A rota was created to allow all children the chance to help maintain the plants including watering, weeding and harvesting. An “Action Day” was held each year. Everyone got involved working in the garden preparing the beds, planting seeds etc. Children used bamboo sticks to create a space in the soil to plant their seeds. Children also used identification sheets and magnifying glasses to investigate the different species already living in their grounds.
For our setting, this programme was very enjoyable and allowed for children of all ages to become actively involved. Some of the many positive aspects include:1.Children and educators gained an understanding of the local flora and fauna, e.g. types of trees and plants, native wildlife, the various species of minibeasts, etc.2.Children gained a true sense of ownership and responsibility throughout this programme as they cared for and tended to plants, animals, and minibeasts.3.The development of the vegetable and fruit patch was a real learning experience, from the stage of preparing the garden beds, addition of compost, planting and caring for seeds, germination, observing growth, harvesting produce, and saving seeds for the following year.