“We must give the child an environment that he can utilize by himself. Free the child’s potential and it will transform the world.”
Children at our school are given rich opportunities to care for the campus environment both indoors and out, developing skills and feelings of self-sufficiency at every age. In the Seven Circles Garden, our amazing gardening teacher, Adrienne Wallace, equips elementary students to become capable and caring “stewards of the Earth.” Our youngest children also learn gardening skills in our preschool gardens.
Indoors, all of our students, preschool through fifth grade, learn to clean up after themselves and to keep their classrooms organized and free of clutter. One of our school values has always been that order and the careful handling of materials equals beauty and harmony, and visitors often comment on the palpable feeling of peace in all our classrooms.
Teaching children the hands-on skills to create order and handle things with care also enhances their development and stimulates self-confidence. Parents often say, “I wish they did that at home.”
Here are some ideas for getting children to care for their environment at home:
Teach skills that make children feel more mature
We want to introduce skills while they still feel challenging to a child. An eight-year-old may not be interested in learning to sweep, but a preschooler is. In the Seven Circles environment, Adrienne teaches children starting in kindergarten to care for everything in the garden—raking, digging, building raised beds, as well as harvesting, cutting, and cooking vegetables.
In preschool, we color-code different types of shelves. Try cutting out photos or making drawings with your child of shirts, pants, socks, etc., and mounting them on drawers or outdoors where clothing goes or tools are housed.
Speak about the loving care of objects
The Māori people of New Zealand believe that everything has a soul. We can teach the care of objects by speaking of them as having needs. “Tools need to stay dry.” “These toys need to live here so they don’t fall out on the floor.” Talk in terms of the object’s “home.” “Let’s put the Legos back in their home.” “Silver is happy when it is polished.”
Patience, patience, patience
It takes time for a preschooler to learn how to sweep up crumbs or clean a table, but accomplishing these tasks brings great pride. We need to encourage children when the bed they made doesn’t look just right or dishes are on the wrong shelf. The intent to maintain their environments must be praised and nurtured, and they will bring those sensibilities and skills out into the world.