How one three year old sparked an environmental movement in 14 ECEC services

by Freya Lucas

October 16, 2020

A shiny new pair of tongs and a three year old who took decisive action against the “yucky” habits of litterers was all it took to spark off the MercyCare Early Learning Services’ EcoWarrior Program.

 

Rosina Smith, MercyCare Early Learning Manager, would take regular walks with her son, Tate, then three years of age, when he began a habit of picking up any rubbish he saw.

 

“Naturally,” she said “as parents do, I freaked out about germs. I encouraged him to keep walking and leave it alone.”

 

Despite her warnings about germs, each time Tate would go for a walk, he would want to pick up the rubbish and put it in the bin, often speaking about how “yucky” the rubbish was. 

 

One day, as Tate again stopped to make a difference, Ms Smith had a realisation.

 

“Why was I asking him to stop? Even at three years old he knows the rubbish on the ground is “yucky” and he is very determined to correct the situation and make it beautiful again.”

 

Ms Smith said that “while I do my best,  I am no Captain Planet, and I have no expert knowledge about environmental issues or how to be sustainable. There are many more people out there with the passion and drive to fight this environmental war than me.” 

 

However, she continued, “I would never stop them from doing the important work, so why was I stopping Tate? I should be supporting him and empowering him to make our place less “Yucky”.”

 

As a result of Tate’s persistence, Ms Smith purchased some tongs to keep in Tate’s bag, allowing him to pick up rubbish safely. 

 

Using Tate’s persistence and passion, Ms Smith was driven to find a way to support and empower those within MercyCare’s 15 services to use this passion to support the centres to meet Element 3.2.3 of the National Quality Standards, and work toward being environmentally responsible. 

 

From that perspective, and using the underpinnings of both MercyCare’s Early Learning Philosophy and MercyCare’s Mission Ethos Shapers, Ms Smith developed the “EcoWarrier” program. 

 

“I realised that I need champions – people that have a passion and interest in being environmentally responsible. I would give them tools, knowledge and opportunity. I wanted to empower them to make a difference, to drive change in others and to share their knowledge” she said. 

 

In September, following 18 months of sharing ideas and information, all 16 EcoWarriors came together for a full day workshop on how to be environmentally responsible in early learning centres.

 

“It was a great day of networking, sharing knowledge and storytelling. We all learnt something new that day – from each other and from the expert trainer. Having everyone together and seeing their commitment in creating and implementing our Early Learning Centre Environmentally Responsible Action Plan and contributing to a less “yucky” world really inspired me as a leader” Ms Smith said.

 

When asked for the “why” behind sharing her story, Ms Smith said that not only was the experience of initiating EcoWarriors one which was about environmental activism, but also about her journey as a leader. 

 

“I wanted to share this story to remind people, as leaders we don’t have to have all the answers or even particularly want to do it. But we can empower others to do what they are passionate about.”

 

For more information about environmental sustainability in early childhood education and care, please see here

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