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Education for a climate-changing future

Climate action | Climate education | Climate change

Mō tātou te taiao ko te atawhai, mō tātou te taiao ko te oranga

It is for us to care for and look after the environment to ensure its wellbeing, in doing so we ensure our own wellbeing and that of our future generations.

Introduction | Kōrero whakataki

The local and global environment is the source of human health and well-being, and connection with the environment is a fundamental requirement for vibrant and healthy communities.1

We are confronted today with many pressing issues, appearing all over the world. The burning of fossil fuels is disrupting our climate, habitats, and all living things. Our lifestyles and industries release many forms of pollution to whenua (land), wai (water) and air that are unhealthy. Our rate of consumption is depleting limited resources, and in many places we are degrading our natural fertility base of water and soil. These issues need action urgently.2

Education has a critical role to play as it strengthens the ability of individuals and communities to positively influence the environment and society. Through informed choices, action, and innovation, people, young and old, can contribute to redesigning how we live and work – and help create a more sustainable future.

Tamariki play together with vehicles on a mat, a person shaped toy lies down.

Image: How do toys and play help tamariki contribute to redesigning how we live and work – to help create a more sustainable future?

Climate change – a definition

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. But since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.

Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures. Examples of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change include carbon dioxide and methane.

Many people think climate change mainly means warmer temperatures. But temperature rise is only the beginning of the story. Because the Earth is a system, where everything is connected, changes in one area can influence changes in all others.3

The role we have in early childhood

There is growing recognition that young children will be the ones most affected by climate change and we, in the early learning sector, are in the unique position of being directly connected with these future decision makers. As kaiako, we are regularly supporting ākonga to connect with their local place and people, make sense of this and some of the science behind what they observe and learn about.

We can also offer our ākonga opportunities to slow down and connect to the place we stand. Exploring, observing, connecting, questioning, and being part of actions that engage the head, the heart, and the hands, and that support te taiao, the environment.

As Professor Wally Penetito states “We need to start where our feet are, but never let it stay there. That’s the beginning point only. Everything else moves out from that. It's kind of like … a basic principle of education - about begin with the stuff you know, and then move into the unknown”.4

Te Whāriki – a supportive, holistic curriculum

Children’s foundational knowledge, curiosity, and enjoyment of learning is supported through quality teaching and curriculum, guided by the framework of Te Whāriki.

The Principles: Empowerment | Whakamana; Holistic development | Kotahitanga; Family and community | Whānau tangata; and Relationships | Ngā hononga are woven together with the Strands to ensure the heart of Te Whāriki is given expression.

  • Strand Mana aotūroa | Exploration lends itself particularly well to introducing scientific knowledge and concepts to children.
  • The strands Mana atua |Wellbeing, Mana whenua | Belonging, and Mana tangata | Contribution are equally important to nurture children’s sense of holistic wellbeing, respect for the natural world, and to foster a kindred spirit and contribution to the wider community.

Climate change highlights the importance of science knowledge and understanding, including mātauranga Māori of which there is so much to learn. Te Tiriti o Waitangi, a key foundation of Te Whāriki, ensures the relationship that tangata whenua hold with the land, and the values placed on the care of her, guides kaiako working with mokopuna to instil a love and respect for Papatūānuku. Kaiako are encouraged to develop curriculum that enriches children’s science-related thinking and knowledge and children’s development of working theories and learning dispositions in response to the world around them from a diversity of cultural perspectives.

The Ministry of Education provides a range of resources on this site to help kaiako integrate domain knowledge into the curriculum and provide the vocabulary and thoughtful conversations to help children make meaning for themselves.

Within the early learning sector there are many actions we can take, every day, to bring about positive change. “We as educators, individuals, whānau, and communities, closely connected with our place and our planet can bring our head, heart, and hands to the creative work of looking after our precious world.”5

Acknowledgements | Ngā mihi maioha

The Ministry of Education wishes to thank Toimata Foundation and Enviroschools for supporting the development of this section, and generously sharing resources.


  2. Global Issues, Local Realities. Enviroschools Kit, Toimata Foundation
  5. Enviroschools Kit, Toimata Foundation