Creating the foundations of sustainability

Karen Norton, Vice-Principal and Primary Head at Kings Monkton School, on the school's city garden and why sustainability should be taught young

When parents bring their little three-year-olds to us, we make it clear to them that their children won’t just be doing ‘free-play’ with us, they will begin learning. We start on their literacy and numeracy skills straight away, we do it in a fun learning way, but as we have very small numbers in our classes – currently 24 pupils and six teachers and teacher’s assistants – we’re always able to have personal one-on-one breakout sessions. We want to instil a positive relationship with learning, because we are building the foundations for the rest of a pupil’s life. The difference in what we can achieve with this early learning in two years is astounding, they can ‘add on’ and know their 3D shapes as well as learning how to hold a pen and overwrite and start to underwrite their words, they really are quite advanced by the time they start Year 1, an advantage that pays dividends and becomes apparent in the following years.

Pastoral care is very high on our priority list at Kings Monkton, and our commitment to the personal, social and academic needs of our students starts in foundation class. This young and responsive age is perfect to teach the foundations of learning about sustainability, such as where their food comes from, and how to be aware of the world around them. 

Every day our parents receive a daily report. In the report we inform them what their child has learned, enjoyed and eaten that day. We find that the ‘what I ate today’ category gets the best reaction from parents, mainly because they are astounded at what their child ate. Potatoes are a perfect example of teaching our young ones about food chains, we get them involved in every stage in the growing process. They plant, feed, water, pick, cook and mash them, and ultimately eat them. 

We find that teaching them respect towards the growing process is how we’ve had success in having children who’ve previously refused to eat potatoes to eat them and continue to do so at home. And during this fun process we’ve taught the children about food and their first steps towards learning about sustainability. 

We also include many small animals in our early learning and sustainability basics too. From tadpoles to giant slugs, from incubating duck eggs to seeing them hatch, grow and spread their wings, we like to show as much of the circle of life as we can. At the moment we’ve got tadpoles and we’re all keeping a keen eye on their transformation. 

Different seasons call for different animals and creatures and having had a tough winter, we wanted to underline the importance of animal wellbeing and in this instance the need to look out for birdlife. Which is why we’ve been making organic bird feeders from lard and birdseeds pushed into pine cones. We used to use peanut butter, but we have a child with a severe nut allergy, which is why we researched the best natural alternative. Another favourite and a lovely way of helping the children with their numeracy as well as their hand-to-eye coordination, is creating bird feeders, that entails impaling a breakfast cereal, namely Cheerios (other breakfast cereals are available) onto pipe cleaners, all in a day’s work at kings Monkton.

The results of all the tadpoles, birdfeeders and potatoes? It’s immensely positive, when our children move from foundation class to Year 1, we observe that they have a natural ability to engage with more sustainable learning, and what we see as our students’ progress through the years at Kings Monkton is a genuine aptitude towards sustainable thinking. As they move into the secondary stages, our unique co-curriculum inspired by the IB, encourages students to choose a charity to support and we find that many of these charities can be attributed to sustainable learning. For example, one of our pupils’ co-curricular faculties focuses on the environment, raising awareness of global warming and moving the school towards a more eco-friendly environment – whether it is growing our own city honey with a beehive; or making changes to packaging and recycling in the canteen. With a 32% increase in our intake at foundation level in the last year, we’re confident that we will see an increase in sustainable thinking throughout the school. 

Ffi: kingsmonkton.org.uk