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TAFE NSW embeds sustainability in next generation of teachers

TAFE NSW Coffs Harbour

TAFE NSW embeds sustainability in next generation of teachers

The next generation of early childhood education and care educators are learning their craft from industry leaders with a firm grasp of sustainability at TAFE NSW Coffs Harbour Education Centre (CHEC).

Instead of brightly coloured plastic play equipment, you'll see children playing in a simulated natural early childhood setting, climbing and exploring on recycled materials such as old tyres, crates, and cardboard boxes or making 'eco-glitter' from dried orange rind, flower petals, and leaves.

The materials are sourced from op shops, skip bins, and trade waste materials that would otherwise end up in landfill. It is all part of the CHEC's mantra of 'reuse, recycle, remake, rethink, repurpose' and their mission to embed environmentally friendly practices in how future educators interact and engage with children.

“The teaching team are very passionate and proactive about embedding Certificate III and Diploma students with the knowledge to take sustainable play and learning concepts into educational workplaces when they gain employment,” Acting Head Teacher Kate Collingburn said.

“It means that for both our students and the children, we are encouraging creative thinking and building sustainable and environmental values that they will use throughout their lives.”

The sustainability mindset goes beyond just the resources children play with. The simulated environment includes its own native stingless beehive and the children make their own beeswax food wraps to take home as well as growing seedlings and cooking with food from the vegetable garden. They even collect bread tags to be made into recycled furniture, which is then sold to provide wheelchairs for children.

TAFE NSW students have incorporated used toy markets, book swaps, and market gardens into their assessment projects as part of their course.

“We use all these opportunities as teachable moments to embed sustainability values into our students' learning and the lives of the children we work with,” Ms Collingburn said.

TAFE NSW graduate Alice Williams, who completed a Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care and now works at Gamumbi Early Childhood Education Centre, said TAFE NSW instilled a love and appreciation of sustainability ideals.

“My study with TAFE NSW was integral in shaping my beliefs and philosophy around sustainability. It enabled me to think beyond traditional practices such as composting and worm farms to reflect more holistically about the sustainable resources we can provide for children's play,” Alice said.

“I now favour recycled materials from collecting food packaging from our kitchen to sourcing loose parts, which are not only great for sustainability but also provide greater play affordability.”

Fellow Diploma graduate Marlene Rumble, also a Gamumbi employee, echoed those sentiments, saying TAFE NSW opened her eyes to the role sustainability and nature can play in early childhood learning.

“TAFE NSW taught me about the importance of being with children in an outdoor environment and the endless learning opportunities it provides, from saving food scraps for the worm garden to beekeeping, gardening, recycling, and exploring nature in a bush setting,” Marlene said.

“Also, I loved that the materials we used for teaching were all from second-hand shops, garage sales or homes, and were reused and repurposed.”

For more information about early childhood education and care courses at TAFE NSW, visit or call 131 601.

Media contact: Terra Sword, Communications Specialist. Phone 02 6623 0325. Email