Kids take hands-on approach to environment

LITTLE GREEN THUMBS: Lees Street kindergarten gardeners Sam Mooar, Kate Mackay, and Jessie Olsen, all 4, do some digging in their vegetable garden, which was recognised at the Southland Environment Awards. 
LITTLE GREEN THUMBS: Lees Street kindergarten gardeners Sam Mooar, Kate Mackay, and Jessie Olsen, all 4, do some digging in their vegetable garden, which was recognised at the Southland Environment Awards. 

Children of all ages are making a difference to the environment throughout the south.

Kindergarten-aged toddlers right through to teenaged high school pupils are planting, sowing, educating and growing various projects in an effort to improve the environment for everyone.

Powering that passion in many schools - 23 to be precise - is the Enviroschools project.

The concept, which began in Hamilton in 1993, has reached its 10-year anniversary in Southland.

In that time, participating schools have made huge changes to how they interact with their environment.

Enviroschools Southland regional co-ordinator Amy Kirk describes the programme as an intense undertaking for schools.

"It's a programme that's integrated across the whole school way of life, not just an extra tacked on."

To that end, the Enviroschools philosophy is interwoven across all aspects of a school's curriculum including English, mathematics and science.

"It's about thinking about different topics using environmental examples - however it can be streamed throughout the school."

It's more than simply having a vegetable garden, orchard or worm farm - it's the students recognising why they need or want one and the whole process of creating one, she said.

One Invercargill kindergarten that has recently gone through the process is Lees Street Kindy.

A year ago, the urban early childhood centre didn't have one vegetable garden. Now they have four.

They were recently recognised at the Southland Environment Awards for their efforts, taking out the schools category in the annual awards.

Head teacher Wendy McLachlan said after joining the Enviroschools programme last year the kindergarten had come a huge way with its environmental awareness.

Like many centres, it had already taken steps towards being environmentally friendly - steps such as reducing waste from lunches. However, being a part of the Enviroschools scheme gave the kindergarten the extra support and motivation to really make changes, she said.

Along with the four vege gardens, which boast crops of broccoli, spinach, herbs, and raspberry cane, the kindy also has a tunnel house for tomatoes and a native seedling programme.

People would be surprised how much the children took on board, she said.

Often, teachers had comments from parents who had been scolded by their three and four year olds for disposing of waste incorrectly at home, she said.

The children also loved gardening, she said.

"There's really no substitute for that kind of learning.

"It's setting them up for later in life."

Another Southland school which knows first hand the benefits of the Enviroschools programme is Limehills School.

The Central Southland primary school was one of the first in the province to take on the challenge of becoming a fully fledged Enviroschool ten years ago.

Teacher Cathy Turnbull, who was involved with the transition, said it was a natural progression for the school.

They had already been involved in several substantial projects, such as the protection and planting of Kowhai Reach - a native bush area nearby.

Environment Southland saw what they were doing and thought they would be the perfect candidates to become one of the first Enviroschools in Southland, she said.

Part of the programme involves giving awards - bronze, silver and gold - which signal a school's development through the Enviroschool philosophy.

As Limehills progressed through the different levels they learnt more about themselves as a school and what impacts they made on their own backyard, she said.

"Students would look at what projects they wanted to be involved with. It influenced everything we are now doing."

Legacies from previous students are still evident in the playground today too, she said.

One of these was a waste reduction programme which aimed to rid the playground of plastic and lunch packaging. The programme was the brainchild of a group of girls who were probably in their late teens by now, she said.

Students loved it because it gave them a voice in their school. Initially the community was sceptical about the kids making decisions, but they had shown they have a good grasp on what should be done and what's fair, she said.

"I don't think we'd ever not be an Enviroschool."

But the programme does have its limitations.

Co-ordinator Amy Kirk said the number of schools that could get on board was limited by financials and staffing levels.

At this stage, with 23 schools and kindergartens on board, they were pretty full.

The process to becoming an Enviroschool also takes time and effort, she said.

Schools are offered support from facilitators to help them through the process and they also become part of a wider connectivity between other Enviroschools nationwide.

"It's about connecting them to where they live and their local environment."

The Southland Times