The nursery that's promoting green issues as well as green fingers

17th July 2009 at 01:00
St Leonard's Nursery storms ahead with its green projects

It sounds like a demanding secondary school environment project. Pupils collect and interpret rainfall and temperature data; they record how the seasons affect wildlife; they discuss the origin of snack foods.

"Children begin to see the perspective of others and understand concepts such as social justice and finite resources," says the school's head.

But the pupils carrying out this sophisticated work are no older than four. They belong to St Leonard's Nursery, in Edinburgh, which won the Smarter Scotland Greener Schools award last month at the Scottish Education Awards.

"It's amazing how much they absorb and learn," said Caroline Ellis, head of the school's Eco-Schools programme.

St Leonard's, which has a maximum roll of 74, has a long history of caring for the natural world. Washing is hung outside rather than being put into a tumble-drier. Waste food becomes compost in a wormery or bins, which are then used to plant fruit and vegetable seedlings that the children will harvest and eat as snacks.

"I think it just fits very well with the ethos of the school - it's always been a very caring nursery," said Ms Ellis. "Looking after the garden and wildlife is part of that."

Children go outside every day to tend their garden, so it is not merely a treat or a venue for special occasions.

"The outdoor environment is just as much of a classroom as the indoors is - there's a real connection between the two. The children aren't just running about letting off steam," said Ms Ellis.

Headteacher Clare McCusker underlines that the focus on green issues is "embedded in all aspects of the curriculum" and amounts to more than a project.

"We're setting really good habits early on," she said. "We're preparing them to make decisions later on, but they're actually actively making decisions now.

"They're spreading the word at home to their parents. And then, when they go on to primary and secondary school, they're asking questions."

Charlie Silverton, father of four-year-old Esther, said: "She doesn't let us get away without doing recycling. The kids are fully aware of their impact on the environment." But he adds that the right balance is struck so children do not get "loaded with too much" information and become scared.

The next step is to make a greenhouse. "It's a moving journey," said Ms Ellis. "You're never there. There's always more to be done."

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