Environment education starts from the fale

APIA: Embedding environmental sustainability begins in the earliest years of education. These formative years are crucial in the development of each and every young person. How we facilitate the learning within these early years can have far reaching impacts on our broader society. It is never too early to have open and honest conversations with our children concerning social justice issues such as gender bias, identity, racism, and climate change. As an early-years educator I see learning opportunities that weave in and embed social justice issues.

Children have the ability to see the world with open and curious eyes, which allows us to challenge our own biases and reflect on our blind spots.

It is important that teachers trust the child and follow their lead instead of being restrained by curriculum standards and top down pressures to obtain standardized achievement levels.

Observations made in a preschool block corner led to a two week-long investigation into the Fale Samoa. I was sitting with a group of children as they constructed buildings for their families and friends. When I asked them to explain their buildings to me, they responded “these are fales, we are building them for our family and this one here (pointing to a large building construction) this is where we all meet”.  I was struck by how detailed their construction was and the narrative that followed as they played with their block fales.

Samoa_fale_tele_architecture_diagram_1This investigation drew upon culturally responsive teaching practices, which wove concepts of design and technology and environmental sustainability.  The Fale Samoa is a key component of Samoan culture, it is a physical representation of Fa’a Samoa and every child in our preschool has some experience of being in or around a fale.  What I wanted to draw the children’s focus to, was the materials used in the building and how these materials were best suited to the engineering of a Fale Samoa.  We started by exploring the creation story, how it came to be that design which lead to a discussion about what materials might have been used to construct the buildings.

The ideas, conversations and questions that were sparked by the children were fascinating as we delved into the traditional materials used in building a fale. As we explored we discovered together how the ‘afa (sinnet rope) was made using coconut fibres, what wood was used for the posts and rafters, how the thatch roof was made from dried sugarcane or coconut tree palm leaves and what was used to make the flooring of the fale. The children’s exploration led them to question why most fales do not use these materials anymore. I wanted to provoke the children’s thinking by drawing their attention to the difference in the materials used and allowing them to critically think about how traditional knowledge is linked to environmental sustainability. I did this through role playing activities and setting up design stations so they could test the different materials.

The children and I learnt together through exploration the importance of traditional knowledge and how that is linked to environmental sustainability. The materials that were originally used to build the fale, were not used by chance. They were used because of their engineering qualities which includes their adaptability to their surrounding environments. When materials started to break down, there was not an issue of waste, but the ability for those materials to be re-purposed or composted.

Embedding traditional knowledge into learning experiences provided the perfect way to raise critical awareness in environmental sustainability in the early years.

*Vittoria is an early childhood education consultant in Samoa. Originally from Australia she has worked in early childhood education in Samoa in the past two years. She has also actively worked in the community environment sector with children and youth outreach including Women in Climate Change, Samoa Conservation Society and has mentored aspiring eco-warriors at Vaiala Beach School.

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