Children at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Preschool are playing with blocks and making art projects, in addition to learning new ways of thinking about the world around them. These young students have pretty big ideas about recycling, turning off water while washing their hands and packing lunches that don’t generate a lot of waste.
Sustainability education is infused into many activities at the preschool, including lessons on “making the Earth happy” by reducing water use, walking (as opposed to driving) more places and cutting down on the unnecessary generation of trash. For example, the playground has paper cups for children to use for drinking water. To see how many cups the school population generates, students saved paper cups for a week and strung them up as a garland. Even though paper cups can be recycled, bringing reusable water bottles to school is more sustainable. They have collected other forms of waste, such as plastic lids or the many types of packaging used for food, to create sculptures that remind people about making better choices for the environment.
“We work to support the development of empathy and positive social interactions for young children,” said Allison Mullady, preschool director. “Our staff and leadership team create research questions based on our day-to-day experiences. We seek out partners, create projects and collect data on the ideas impacting our children.
“We know the early years are critical in shaping the brain and developing cognitive and social skills needed later in life,” Mullady added. “This method includes young children’s mind-sets about the future and how to care for our environment. I approached ASU’s Sustainability Science Education team at the Biodesign Institute to see how we could really embed these ideas of sustainability right from the start. We explored how to develop a curriculum that takes abstract concepts and relates them to everyday life.”
The Sustainability Science Education team is creating unique sustainability education experiences for many teachers, including those at the preschool. This team is led by Lee Hartwell, ASU-affiliated faculty and Nobel Prize recipient (in physiology); Annie Warren, director of research and development at ASU’s Biodesign Institute; and Leanna Archambault, associate professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.
“Children are incredibly observant. Providing unique opportunities to young kids, such as cleaning glitter-infused water with sponges, provides a creative way for them to draw connections to events like oil spills. Exploring these issues at a young age provides a necessary foundation for the critical consumption of knowledge in the future,” Warren said.
The preschool often partners with other entities to enhance the education and opportunities provided to students. A recent “Preschool Yogis” study with the College of Health Solutions allowed staff to review how yoga impacted the children’s self-regulation and problem-solving skills. During an eight-week project, teachers and parents reported an increase in the use of breathing strategies and other yoga techniques among children. The adults reported that the preschoolers reminded each other about the breathing exercises, calmed themselves through yoga and reduced their own stress.
“We have created a culture of use-inspired research,” said Mullady. “All of the research we conduct is organic and based on challenges or ideas from our own staff and children. We want the projects to have a direct benefit to the children, a value to families at the preschool and the potential to impact others in the greater early childhood community.”
The Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Preschool has three classrooms that include a total of 40 children ranging in age from 3 to 5 years. Preschool students are placed in a classroom based on the “best fit” approach in which the staff and director consider many factors, such as age, teachers’ expertise and children’s strengths and needs.
The preschool has a 20-year history on the ASU campus. “Our lead teachers and instructional assistants are full-time ASU employees with extensive experience working with young children,” Mullady said. “We also host many students and interns from education programs at ASU and Northern Arizona University. Our goal is to support early care and education through those who are training to become teachers and through a wide range of pre-professionals who can promote early education in their fields.”
In the past year, the preschool hosted more than 100 college students from programs in early childhood, special education, occupational therapy, speech and hearing sciences, nursing, nutrition and health promotion, university service learning, dance, drama and music therapy.
Preschool openings are available to children regardless of whether parents or guardians have an affiliation with the university. Located on ASU’s Tempe campus, the school is open 12 months per year, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. A few openings remain for fall 2016. Interested families should contact the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Preschool at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-965-9396 to learn more and set up a tour. To learn more about the preschool and the sustainability education happening there, view the video below or visit Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Preschool. To learn more about sustainability education at ASU, visit ASU’s Sustainability Science Education team at the Biodesign Institute.