by Katelyn Long ’19, Zilkha Summer Intern 2016
The Williams College Children’s Center (WCCC) is a largely unexplored area of campus, as it is tucked away in the corner of campus up a hill and behind a wall of trees. I was unaware of its existence until recently, but after a visit I left impressed by both the area and the ways in which the Center pursued its goal of education and sustainability. The building itself embraces a holistic experience with large windows connecting to the outdoors, and the community builds itself in a sustainable manner.
Sustainability encompasses much more than just awareness. It’s an active engagement in the process of maintaining and pursuing efficiency and harmony between oneself and one’s environment.
At the WCCC, children are exposed to a type of instruction that moves with the natural growth of the individual and community. In a manner different from traditional schooling, the purpose of learning is explored at the Center through active participation and awareness, which expands the vision of students. Creativity is central to this learning plan. In their mission statement, the WCCC recognizes “the strengths, diversity, and uniqueness of all who learn and teach here. [The] teachers foster multiple ways of learning and development of skills that will support [the] children in the future, whether in school or in the world beyond.” (WCCC website) Encouraging curiosity allows for the flexibility to think.
In a productive environment, different facets of sustainability tend to exist in balance with one another, and personal and interpersonal development are as important as other forms of the sustainability pyramid. The book Loose Parts (by Lisa Daly & Miriam Beloglovsky, photography by Jenna Daly) has been highly influential in certain changes that have taken place in recent years in the center. Children play creatively using materials from their environments, and working sustainably with the materials already readily available to them in order to experiment and learn new ways of thinking leads to important experience.
The WCCC strives to empower children. When living in harmony with an environment, it is easy to take for granted a certain lifestyle behavior, but it is important to consider the implications that small changes might have. The faculty at the Center have made changes such as using electronic copies of paperwork in place of the physical, and the Center as a whole has taken steps to promote more sustainable behavior. A recycling system created just last year has significantly reduced the amount of recyclable waste that ends up in the trash pile, and continued efforts to hopefully instate a composting system in the future have contributed to the new atmosphere of environmental awareness that translates to the classroom and into the community.
Students learn the importance of recycling through the practice of washing out containers in preparation for recycling, and develop a consciousness to that particular act and the impacts of that act. The idea is to open the door for children to explore the world and the wonders of it, while being exposed to sustainable ideas that are becoming increasingly important to our world – like protecting the environment by being conscious of the waste that we individually contribute, and being aware of the importance of diversity.
In a similar vein, the garden that sits on the land in the opening area of the Center has been modified with a different sustainable focus. For over five years, the garden was used to grow fresh food, but the vegetables that were grown needed to be cooked or modified in order to consume them; by making the change to reduce the number of different foods produced and focus on the efficiency of the product, the garden can produce more sustainably, with greater impact on more people.
The discussion of ‘sustainability’ is ongoing and difficult to pin down to a single framework, but the Children’s Center clearly shows the ways in which people can and do navigate the world in a way that benefits most aspects of life. The process of sustainability does not have an end, and the Center demonstrates change within itself and in the instruction of children to meet the needs of both the present and the future. I recommend a visit to anyone who is interested in early childhood education and sustainability.