Green Schools Leader Muinteoir Niamh Nurtures Children’s Love For Nature

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Primary School Teacher and Green Schools Champion Niamh shares her passion for sustainability in her School

Hi, my name is Niamh and I am a primary school teacher. I work in an all-boys DEIS school in Dublin and have been teaching for ten years. I grew up in inner city Dublin and could never have imagined that I would have a love for gardening and the outdoors. My Dad spent years dragging my sister and I to garden centres and parks and somehow it rubbed off.

I cannot pinpoint a certain moment that I began a sustainability journey, instead it has happened over time. I began by trying to make sure to recycle as much as possible, realising that recycling isn’t enough I tried to reduce the amount of packaging that I bought. I am lucky to live close to Small Changes, a wholefoods and refill shop, in Drumcondra but I also shop a lot in my local vegetable shop. I have made lots of small changes that are now just part of our household routine.

Green Schools Committee

I help to run the Green Schools Committee in school and the boys have made some great suggestions over the years. We did have black bins in each classroom but now we have reduced this to just one per four classrooms. Each class now has a recycling bin and a compost bin, this makes them think about their waste and where it needs to go. A group of 5th class boys empty the compost bins every Tuesday and Friday; they empty them onto our compost heap but also choose some nice scraps for our worms.

Recycling Station

A Recycling Station was set up in the main foyer as part of the Green Schools initiative. We collect:

  • Batteries for WEEE and the Laura Lynn foundation
  • Toilet roll tubes for our compost bin and for art projects
  • Yoghurt pots to use for planting instead of buying plant pots; they can also be used to hold PVA glue
  • Newspapers to make biodegradable pots
  • Plastic bottles tops for Precious Plastics Dublin. Precious plastics are collecting bottle tops which will then be transformed into new plastic products
  • Crisp packets for Terracycle. Terracycle recycle a huge amount of packaging that isn’t taken by local recycling companies. They recycle or upcycle your waste giving it a whole new life.

It is only now that we do not have access to school or to our recycling station that I realise how much we did as part of the Green Schools Programme. It was the norm to see children stop in the morning and empty out the plastic bottle tops they had been collecting at home. Or to hear that children had gone out to their road and picked up rubbish that they found.  They also became more aware of the school environment and would pick up rubbish in the school grounds and put it in the correct bin.

School Garden

Not many children will say that they enjoy gardening, but bring them outside and give them a shovel and I promise you they will love it. Some children like the physical aspect of it, the digging, raking, lifting, pushing and pulling. Others relish the creative aspect, using sticks to create a den, making a fairy garden, planting seeds and watching them grow. If you give the children choice and ownership over it, they really can learn a lot and develop from it. Last year we grew a selection of vegetables in our school garden, all led by the boys themselves. They were so proud when they went to harvest their potatoes and found that over 80 had grown.

Harvest Day

The most exciting day had to be when we harvested our parsnips. The boys were not very sure what they were and had referred to them as white carrots for a few weeks. When we pulled them up, the boys were so surprised at how amazing they smelled. They stopped everyone we met on the way back to class to smell them! It was such a simple thing but the joy in that moment was just fantastic and it did not come from PlayStations, toys, prizes etc. It was from the pride and excitement from something they had planted, nurtured and harvested. We had an even better afternoon when we cooked them and enjoyed carrot and parsnip mash. It also led to a discussion about what organic meant and if that was part of the reason for their home grown vegetables being so tasty.

Getting Crafty

It is easy to get children involved in sustainability in school as part of a Green Schools Programme or at home. There are plenty of art and craft ideas using toilet roll tubes, yoghurt pots, cereal boxes, etc. You can go online and look for ideas or you can just gather up some items and let your child build or make anything they like. Why not set up a recycling station in your house collecting batteries, toilet roll tubes and then keep another tub for items that can be used for art. In general children have great imaginations, as well as a connection to nature and desire to look after our planet so we just need to give them opportunities to explore.

Summer Course for Teachers

Last year was my first time to run a summer course for teachers, which was called “The Growing Classroom…from the Classroom to the School Garden”. The aim of the course was to improve teachers’ confidence in growing with their classes which they could use in running their Green Schools programme. It began with looking at what teachers could do within the classroom setting, e.g. making biodegradable pots and planting seeds. We then looked at getting outdoors and taking part in activities such as tree trails, as well as visiting local parks.

The course also explored options for setting up a school garden, at various levels, from basic to sophisticated, that were suitable for the individual teachers and schools. The course has been approved for another year but I am waiting for guidance from the Department of Education to see how and when it might run. If you would like any information on the course or are looking for ideas to get planting with your own children you can find me on Instagram @mentoringmuinteoir