The Great British Spring Clean

The Great British Spring Clean


I came across the Great British Spring Clean on Facebook recently and decided to sign the family up. I was really  disappointed at how few clean ups are registered in my local area with none seemingly from schools or early years settings. Hopefully, as the date draws closer, more will join.

Environmental awareness has been in the news a lot lately with children, from around the country, missing school to demand that the government takes action on  climate change.  It also was recently reported that the earth has just 12 short years before it reaches tipping point.

Extinction level events in the animal kingdom have already begun, with one of the most devastating being the rapid decline in the insect world.  Insects form a vital part of the food chain and deterioration in their numbers will affect the mass production of fruits and vegetables. I’ve noticed a huge decline in the number of bee’s, and other insects, visiting my garden over the past 2 years, despite consciously planting species that attract insects and providing for different habitats.

In their rush to prepare children earlier and earlier for testing, schools are missing out on a vital element of the curriculum which will empower the next generation to learn about and look after the environment.  Ecological awareness and sustainability covers all areas of the curriculum and enables children to develop a greater understanding of how our actions impact on the environment and how, by changing our behaviour this can be mitigated.

But what can we, as early years practitioners, do to ensure that our youngest people are involved in this?  As with all things, we need to start with day to day practices and routines in our settings.   Children imitate what they see and if we model behaviour that has a positive impact on the environment then they will follow suit.

If we pass these values onto the young children in our care then we are raising the next generation with the knowledge and enthusiasm to effect real change. After all, they are the generation that will inherit the world that we, by our behaviour, are changing today!

Start simple by providing recycling bins – one for fruit/veg scraps, which can be composted, one for recycling and one for rubbish.  Get the children to take the food scraps to the compost heap or bin and let them see, first hand, how food scraps, leaves and cuttings all break down to make compost, which they can then use to enrich the soil.  Discuss the importance of recycling, with children in context, as and when the opportunity arises and these attitudes will soon be embedded in your setting.

Young children have limited experience of the world but I have always found Come Outside, a BBC children’s programme, really useful for providing my reception aged children with information on things outside their immediate experience, in a simple and accessible way.   The episode about Rubbish gives a great insight into how their rubbish bag from home is just one of many.  Children can find out what happens to their rubbish after it is taken away and how recycling changes what they see as rubbish, into new and useable everyday objects such as bottles.


For settings on the coast, or those who operate Beach Schools, why not focus your efforts on collecting plastic nurdles.  These are tiny, nugget sized pieces of plastic used by industry as a raw material to make a range of plastic products and are often released into the environment accidentally or through mishandling.


Image courtesy of

It is thought that there are millions of nurdles in the seas, around our shores, which are washed onto many of our beaches with the tide.  Nurdles attract and absorb other pollutants and over time breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces that enter the food chain when they are swallowed by fish and other creatures.  Approximately 127,500 pellets were collected on just a 100 metre stretch of beach in Widemouth Bay, earlier this year.

Why not organise a group to search for these damaging pollutants on a beach near you?You can use the Nurdle Map to help identify beaches near you that have been found to contain nurdles.


Teaching children about the positive impact they can have on the environment can’t start too early.  After all, we expect them to tidy up after themselves, dont we?  This isn’t that different, just on a wider scale but the benefits are so much greater, for them and for everyone else.

There are some great ideas online, such as the examples below, for linking The Great British Spring Clean to the curriculum.

These can be found on the eco school website (which has an EYFS as well as primary pathway).

  • English – write an instructional text about how to safely conduct a litter pick: ‘Litter-acy’
  • Maths – record the different litter items found during a litter pick in a graph or chart
  • Art – use ‘clean’ litter to create artworks and sculptures

There are many other ways of linking this to the curriculum for example, children can create posters or invitations for friends and family prior to the event. Alternatively, on completion of the litter pick, they can weigh each bag then combine the totals to find the total weight of litter collected.


Fire in tree

‘Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints’ is a saying that is often heard in connection with forest school. However this saying isn’t strictly true as it’s common practice for forest schoolers to act as guardians of their local environment and take home with them any litter that they find.  Environmental awareness and sustainability is one of the key principles of Forest School and settings that follow this approach have this embedded into their way of working.

Whilst undertaking my forest school training,  I took reception aged children into the local woodland every week and they very quickly came to understand that they could have a say and effect real change in looking after the woodland. They viewed the walk in and out of the woods as an opportunity to collect any litter as well as document any damage to the woodland, such as a fire set at the base of trees, or fly tipping,  which I then would report the relevant department at the local authority .

Why not take a bag to collect litter when going on your next nature walk? This is a great way to develop children’s understanding of the amount of litter  that is needlessly thrown away.  On your return, sort the litter with the children to demonstrate how much is actual rubbish and how much can be recycled, as this will provide children with a more concrete understanding of the impact they can have on their locality.


Participating in events such as The Great British Spring Clean, promotes and develops community involvement and enables children to better understand environmental issues impacting their local area and discover what they can do to address this.

Schools can register for the event and will be automatically entered into a competition, with a prize of £1,000 for school equipment.  This shouldn’t deter nurseries from participating however, why not contact local schools to find out who is joining the Great British Spring Clean and join in with them?  This is a great way of forging links with other settings too!

Last year 126,000 children and young people participated. Along with the 244,000 other volunteers, across the country, they collected 630,000 bags of litter but more importantly, they hopefully gained a greater insight into the small life changes that they can make to make their local environment a better place to live for them, their families and local wildlife.










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