Imagine a classroom without walls, children learning in a space filled with natural light, bare toes wiggling in the sand, wind chimes tinkling and lots of space to roam and explore. This is what children and their parents can look forward to at Ladybird Nursery, the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited Early Years nursery in Dubai. Embracing the ethos of sustainability, it is working to open minds to a better, greener society.
When Monica Valrani, CEO of Ladybird Nursery and Early Learning Centre, first started planning this new nursery, she wanted something very special for the city’s children. “A healthy building filled with the laughter and chatter of happy secure little ones – this was what we put at the centre of every decision we made when planning for our new nursery,” she tells us when we go along for a first look at the amazing facility.
This sentiment can be seen in every aspect of the school. As we walk around each area, we are amazed by the amount of natural light that floods the space. The architects on the project, Godwin Austen Johnson, clearly worked very hard to make sure this is a building that is not just aesthetically pleasing (which it is), but is also both sustainable and user-friendly.
LEED-certified buildings are resource efficient. They use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As an added bonus, they also save money, as the architects look at more sustainable ways to make the building work right from the start.
In this case, the architects also spent time studying the vernacular architecture of the region, reflecting a simpler and more traditional way of life before energy was used to modify climatic conditions.
The fans dotted around the ceilings circulate air in a much less intrusive way than air-conditioning units do. Even on the hottest days, when “air-con” is definitely needed, the water produced from the units is recycled and reused to irrigate the organic vegetable patches in the garden.
It sounds idyllic, we know... Even the floors have been designed to allow children to explore in their bare feet and open areas have been created, where they can cycle. Then there’s the sensory garden, where the kids can rest and regroup. It’s not just about them playing around in green or light-filled spaces, however. As the world becomes increasingly concerned with environmental issues and many people, from habit or lack of knowledge, continue to live as we always have, the little students of this school are going to learn necessary habits to essentially save this planet. They’ll learn things such as how to recycle, how to grow their own food, about the importance of turning off the light when it’s not needed, and how solar panels can effectively heat water without wasting natural resources.
With training like this from an early age, their sense of wonder in the world around them will be nurtured, equipping them to go on to help create a sustainable future.
On top of all this (it’s also not just about encouraging a future generation of tree-huggers and eco-warriors), the children will be immersed in a well thought-out curriculum, mixing both Early Years Foundation Stage and the principles of Montessori.
Principal Helen Taylor Shaw outlines how they plan to do this. “We take babies from six months old and are involved in every important step they take, right up to age four,” she explains.
“Our youngest classes will enjoy singing, chatting and socialising; our toddlers will get to grips with balancing, learning through play and exploring; and our older children will move happily through all aspects of EYFS to make sure they are grounded, having learned all the skills needed for Big School.”
Most importantly, though, it’s as Valrani puts it to us: “Our young pupils of today are the planet’s custodians of tomorrow, so we owe it to them – as well as to our fragile Earth – to cultivate a lasting legacy of the importance of being environmentally astute.”
And so, a new era of education begins.
Three planet-saving tips
Plant a pot
Let your children feel the earth in their hands by digging through soil and into the ground to plant a tree or garden. If you lack outdoor space, plant a herb garden in a window box. These activities will enable kids to take pride in growing their own food.
Track a bug
Grab a magnifying glass and head outside as the sun goes down. Search for ant hills and watch these busy little creatures at work. Observing ant behaviour is a fun and easy way for kids to learn about how animals, and insects, act.
Use your junk
There are countless ways to upcycle things you no longer use around the house. The more you spin old wares into new ones, the more your children will take up this way of life and perpetuate the craftiness. All sorts of junk can become treasures and it teaches some great lessons on recycling, too.