Children can lead environmental change

22:36, Jan 16 2014
Jeanne Williams
GUARDIANS: Jeanne Williams presents her research on how children see themselves as guardians of the earth at a conference in Christchurch yesterday.

Teaching pre-schoolers the importance of the environment will help them become agents of change in the future, an early childhood researcher says.

Jeanne Williams told delegates at the New Zealand Association for Environmental Education conference in Christchurch yesterday early childhood was a critical time for forming values and attitudes toward the environment.

Kindergartens started looking at how they could foster children's passion for the environment several years ago, she said.

"We chose to see them [children] as members of our society and eager to engage. They have important things to tell us so we have to stop putting constraints on our children. We needed to empower them."

Williams is doing a Masters degree at the University of Canterbury on whether children see themselves as guardians of the earth. As part of her research, she has been talking with children at the KidsFirst Lincoln kindergarten where she is head teacher.

Her preliminary results show young children have an "I can do it" attitude and believe caring for the environment is part of everyday life.


When Williams asked one child why he picked up rubbish, he replied: "So animals did not eat it because if they did they would die, and then the earth would die."

She said 3 and 4-year-old children had thoughts on the environment and were able to make changes.

By engaging them at a young age, they had a stronger awareness of who they were and the contributions they could make.

"This group of children have a strong identification with nature, they are intrigued and wonder what is around them," Williams said.

University of Canterbury lecturer Glynne Mackey said Williams' research was vital in understanding young children's views of the environment.

"If we ignore the voices and competence of our very youngest citizens then we ignore some of the most important people who can make a difference now and in the future," she said.

The Press