After five years, the first plant-based early education centre in Australia opened for business in May. Sustainable Play Preschool — a 47-child school with long daycare hours, nestled on the western edge of Newcastle, NSW — is run on the principle of the circular economy, where children learn sustainable practices by experiencing them firsthand.
The school’s founder is Llewellyn Jones, who began his working life as a carpenter, but became disheartened by the level of waste and the industry’s practices in general and decided to switch to early education and become a trainee educator.
“I always wanted to create my own business. So, in 2016, I began thinking about teaching children appreciation for our world’s resources. I worked in an early education service to develop the idea,” he recalls. A year on, he realised he couldn’t do it alone, though, and so began putting together a diverse professional team.
The preschool reflects sustainability values from the ground up. Where possible, recycled and recyclable materials were used in its construction. “You’ll see this in the recycled hardwood in the gardens and verandahs and our preference for metal, concrete and masonry over anything fibre-cement-based,” Jones told The Newcastle Herald. “We have a unique ‘Creekscape’ design by Edible Kids Gardens with a manual water pump, integrated garden beds, sand pits, grassy areas, a mulberry tree for climbing and more. The resources inside our preschool rooms are made from mostly natural materials. There’s nothing that requires batteries and minimal to no plastic.”
While many preschools incorporate sustainability, this school takes it a step further with its plant-based menu. Preschoolers compost food waste in the school’s wormfarms, they learn how to grow food from a garden educator, they learn to cook with the school’s very own chef, and spend most of their time outdoors; in fact, the school's open-door policy encourages outside play. The menu is 100% plant-based, with 80% organic Australian-grown produce. There’s power from 13kW of solar panels; 90,000 litres of rainwater storage for the laundry, toilets and gardens; and a clothing exchange. The school only uses non-toxic cleaning products and buys resources from ethical supply chains and local businesses.
When asked why he opted for a plant-based menu, Jones remarked, “We believe it’s a great choice for children from both a sustainability and nutrition perspective. It reduces the environmental cost that animal products have on deforestation, species loss, water usage and pollution, land usage, carbon emissions and waste byproducts. Our menu is dietitian-approved. It provides children with ample opportunities to fulfil the often unmet Australian Dietary Guidelines on servings of vegetables, legumes and fruit that prevent obesity and chronic disease. Parents have been thrilled with the food, requesting dishes for themselves, and pleased their children are eating foods they may not have the time to prepare at home.”
And the kids? Jones says they haven’t noticed anything unusual about the menu. “Their favourite things to eat have been dishes they’ve helped prepare such as damper, salad from the garden and pizzas with their own toppings. All children are given ‘learning bowls’ at meal times where they can place foods they’re not sure about tasting yet. We use the ‘division of responsibility’ method, allowing them to serve themselves, again giving them the agency to try what they’d like and leave what they’re not ready for yet. We have had the pleasure of watching children who’ve been named ‘fussy eaters’ by their parents eat sweet potato, minestrone soup, tofu scramble wraps, damper and more. Parents have made positive comments, wishing they could eat the food too.”
While Jones says he would like to open more such schools, there are no immediate plans. “We are focused on making our first school a success. We have been delighted by the inquiries from all across Australia requesting a centre in their area. With enough interest, we look forward to opening another Hunter centre. A plant-based cookbook with tried and true kid favourites is in the works,” he adds.
TOP Children out and about in the Bush Kindy Playgroup
BOTTOM Serving up some morning hot cocoa and savoury oat cups
PHOTOS Sustainable Play Preschool
We have been delighted by the inquiries from all across Australia requesting a centre in their area. With enough interest, we look forward to opening another Hunter centre.
| More about the school