It’s ten days since children across KwaZulu-Natal headed back to school or enrolled for their first day and little ones as young as three are already learning about respecting and appreciating our natural world.

Grade 1 Tree Tops Primary School pupils, Kenna Irving and Aphiwe Kubheka learn about recycling and the little things we can do to help care for our environment.

Children at Tree Tops Pre-Primary in Musgrave arrive with bags of “anti-waste” (cardboard, plastic and cans) that they collected from home every week and sorted into the correct recycle boxes at school.

Now in its 86th year of educating little ones about the importance of caring for our environment, Tree Tops has a proud tradition of teaching children to care for and respect the environment across its three campuses – Bellevue Campus (Grade 000), Silverton Campus (Grades 00, R, and 1) and Windmill Campus (Grades 2 and 3). Learning combines fun and hands-on experience so children as young as three are able to understand the meaning and purpose of recycling.

“At each of our campuses, children are given the opportunity to review and sort ‘anti-waste’ materials namely cardboard, plastic and cans that are brought from their homes every Thursday at each of our three campuses,” says Carolyn Robinson who has been the principal of Tree Tops Pre-Primary and Junior Primary for the past 35 years. “Our children are taught the slogan ‘Refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle.’ Parents are also encouraged to purchase our branded reusable shopping bags and the children often proudly bring their anti-waste to school in these bags.”

Robinson adds, “We believe that the future of the planet will be in good hands when children connect with nature and are aware of human impact on the sustainability of their world”

Educating a caring and responsible attitude to their environment certainly impacts on young minds. “We have to recycle so that when we are old, there won’t be rubbish everywhere,” says six year old Tree Tops pupil, Aphiwe Kubheka.  “There is rubbish and litter in our sea, air and road, so we must not be litterbugs and we must clean up all the mess,” adds classmate, Kenna Irving while four year old Carter Graaf points out that “if the animals eat paper they get sick and we mustn’t do that”

“There are simple things you can do at home to educate your children about caring for our environment,” explains Robinson. “You can, for example, create a little recycling station so they learn how to separate cans, cardboard and paper. Talk to them about what happens to our land and oceans if we don’t recycle. Show them pictures of the plastic islands that are cluttering the seas and explain how every little bit that we do can impact positively on the world around us.”

Tree Tops’ commitment to the environment has been warmly acknowledged over the years. In 2011, the year it joined WESSA’s (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) Eco-Schools programme, Tree Tops was awarded “Green Flag” status. This was followed by Gold Status and Eco flags hang proudly at the entrance to all three campuses. At the end of last year, Tree Tops received the Platinum Level 2 Eco Schools Award from WESSA.