National Week of Play: Creating socially responsible children

week of playBy Val Pope

What is social responsibility and what does it mean for us in the early years? 

Wikipedia puts it this way: 

“Social responsibility is an ethical framework in which an individual is obligated to work and cooperate with other individuals and organizations for the benefit of the community that will inherit the world that individual leaves behind.” 

In other words, the actions we take affect other people, so it is important to make those actions as positive as they can be for the community we live in and equally for the generations that come after us.

For children, social responsibility also helps to build vital social and emotional skills.

When children understand they are a part of a wider community, they can begin to:

  • build warm relationships with each other 
  • learn about their family, their community and culture in the wider world 
  • understand and really believe that everyone has equal value 
  • develop empathy and respect for others 
  • understand how their actions can affect other people.

Social responsibility values motivate children to help others and contribute positively to society from the earliest years.  

Learning about their community

So how do we teach pre-school children to be responsible?  

What does social responsibility look like for a 3 or 4 year old?  

Can we teach them about re-cycling and avoiding waste and helping to preserve the planet? 

YES! We definitely can. 

If we approach it in an age-appropriate way then we can teach children the importance of their actions and decisions, and the values of respect and concern for others, thereby building the foundation for social responsibility throughout their lives. 

Children can learn about their local community and the issues that affect it – collecting for a local clothing bank for example, and understand that giving up some of the clothes they no longer need will then help other children in turn to have clothes they might not otherwise be able to have. 

Similarly, giving old toys to a children’s hospital or to a charity shop means other children get pleasure from the toys, and they are learning about recycling and minimising waste at the same time. 

Even the principles of fair trading can be introduced early! 

Clowns Nursery describe how they trace the “footsteps” of a banana from grower to supermarket. The older children are introduced to the idea of paying the farmer a fair market price so that he, in turn, can feed himself, send his children to school, buy food for his family. 

Leading by example

Recycling, upcycling, re-using and re-purposing can be out into practice very easily, but it is really important that the adults practice this too – use special waste bins for recyclable paper, card etc, avoid single use plastic, don’t leave taps running and waste water, avoid wasting food. 

It is so important to lead by example and reinforce the message through consistent actions, communicating your vision and approach with your children, your parents and carers and your local community. 

Clowns Nursery recognise they are part of a bigger system of people, values, other organisations and nature, and accept that they have a social and environmental responsibility, as a childcare and education business, to give back to the world just as it gives to them:  

“We are committed to promoting human rights, helping our local community and protecting our natural environment. We also believe it is important to provide the children in our care with the opportunity to develop an age-appropriate awareness of these responsibilities, encouraging them to become proactive and caring members of their local community and the world as a whole”. 

Useful links

Fairtrade fortnight - talking to children about where food comes from

6 ways to reduce plastic in your early years setting

Reducing plastic in nursery settings - success stories

Plastic not so fantastic

Sowing the Seeds

Sowing the Seeds is the Alliance’s commitment to sustainability, socially, economically, and environmentally, and this campaign for the early years sector embeds a socially responsible approach in our own practice as well as providing a suite of resources for early years educators and for families, to drive and embed change for a stable future for our children.  

As part of this commitment, we have developed a sustainability pledge template that can be used by early years providers to help provide you with a focus and commitment to sustainability.  

And a last – but vitally important – point is that by being culturally inclusive in your setting, you are teaching children that everyone has equal value, and everyone deserves equal care, attention and respect. 

Avoid ‘tokenistic’ celebrations of festivals, and instead show through resources, images and activities that are embedded in your continuous provision that diversity is important, valued and always something to be celebrated.

This will help to grow the citizens of tomorrow to possess true social responsibility and the empathy and emotional connections they need to care for each other and for our planet. 

How can I get a copy of the sustainability pledge?

The sustainability pledge is included in our National Week of Play resource pack which is free to all!

To get the resource pack please send us your details and we'll send you the link to the resource pack which includes the pledge which you can find in the Publicity Support Materials folder.