5 child-friendly books to help build foundations for a sustainable world | NCFE

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5 child-friendly books to help build foundations for a sustainable world

Janet King Janet King Sector Manager for Education and Childcare, NCFE

Back in 2021, my colleagues and I collaborated to develop a resource which introduces young children to sustainability through engaging and interactive experiences. The resource supports practitioners and parents to connect with the 17 sustainability development goals (SDGs) and learn more about our responsibilities to each other and the world in which we live.  

Today, the resource is being successfully used to support early years practitioners as they engage with babies, young children, and parents/carers to explore the exciting world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Starting early matters – which is why the resource is packed full of fun ideas, activities and books which invoke creativity and curiosity in young children. 

This is also why, when I recently spotted that this year’s International Literacy Day theme was ‘Promoting literacy for a world in transition: Building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies’, I thought it would be a great opportunity to explore five of the children’s books (and their associated activities) from our resource, which focus on sustainable practices that can be replicated at home or at school. 

1. The Home Builders by Varsha Bajaj (2019) 

The Home Builders introduces a serene woodland setting where lots of expectant animal parents are in their nesting phase – that is, busy preparing safe, cosy homes for their growing families. As they dig, tunnel, gnaw, and gather, they create dens, burrows, lodges and of course, nests. 

This book can be used to introduce children and young people to the concept that we share our natural world with plenty of other lifeforms that have a unique set of needs required to maintain their ecosystems. 

Related activity: Why not work with children to design homes for animals which give them protection? What do they need access to? Think about sun, water, warmth and food. 

Related SDGs: 2 – Zero hunger and 15 – Life on land. 

2. What is a Refugee? by Elise Gravel (2021) 

This illustrated, accessible book introduces young readers to the term “refugee”. This timely picture book answers questions children may have about refugees, including who they are, why they leave their own country, and why they are sometimes not welcome in their new country. Many of the themes in this book link back to building the foundations for peaceful societies by educating and introducing children to what can be a complex topic (appropriate for ages 3-7). 

Related activity: Try brainstorming the emotions the refugee characters in this book may have experienced when they did not feel comfortable. You could also look at maps and see where refugee children have travelled from. N.B: Please be mindful of the community you are in, considering if there are refugee children in your setting/nursery. 

Related SDGs: 10 – Reduced inequalities. 

3. Plants Feed Me by Lizzy Rockwell (2015) 

This celebration of fruits, vegetables and more is sure to get kids interested in what’s on their plates. In this book, clearly labeled diagrams show the different parts of plants we use and eat – such as leaves of spinach and cabbage, the roots of carrot plants, and the wide variety of fruits, such as apples, berries, and tomatoes.  

Plants Feed Me also explores the different types of seeds we eat – beans, nuts, rice, and even how wheat is ground into flour and used to make many other types of food. 

Related activity: Reflect on the differences between plant-based food and animal-based food – what foods do children eat that fall into these two categories? You could also make an audit of the most popular plants eaten and introduce children to new plant-based foods, as well as exploring the taste and feel of traditional plant-based foods. 

Related SDGs: 13 – Climate action and 15 – Life on land. 

4. Engineering for Babies by Jonathon Litton (2019) 

Engineering for Babies is part of a fun new board book series that introduces a wide array of non-fiction subjects to babies and toddlers. Babies will love learning all about engines, bridges and tunnels, and how they are made – and it’s never too early to get an A* in engineering! 

Ensure your library or reading basket has a variety of STEM texts to inspire young children around the endless possibilities of careers that are out there – many of which will be active in finding solutions for building peaceful and sustainable societies.  

Related activity: Encourage older children to use a range of equipment in their play. These might include wheeled toys, wheelbarrows, tumbling mats, ropes to pull up on, spinning cones, tunnels, tyres, structures to jump on/off, den-making materials, logs and planks to balance on, A-frames and ladders, climbing walls, slides and monkey bars. They can also use large scale materials to build their own towns. 

Related SDGs: 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure and 11 – Sustainable cities and communities. 

5. Why Should I Save Water? by Jen Green (2005) 

Children might pose the question “why should I conserve water?” After all, children in the UK can turn a tap on and water flows freely. This book by Jen Green is a starting point for developing strategies with the children on the things they can do at school and home to conserve water. 

Use this book as a stimulus to explore the world of water, reminding readers that it is important to keep water clean together and discuss what makes water dirty. 

Related activity: Look at images of dried-up lands and think about how animals/plants can manage. You could also conduct basic water experiments with plants. 

Related SDGs: 6 – Clean water and sanitation. 

To discover more activities and resources ahead of International Literacy Day, download our full Early Childhood Education for Sustainability resource for free. You can also explore the rich range of resources in our Education and Early Years Career Toolkit. 

Interested in our Early Childhood Education for Sustainability resource?
Download for free here

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