Sustainability (KS2): Everything You Need To Know

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Understanding sustainability is part of the KS2 curriculum; it’s a word we hear so often, but what exactly does it mean? And what does sustainability mean for our children?

Below is an overview of the topic which includes everything your child needs to know about sustainability, from the importance of recycling to different forms of energy- we have got you covered. It’s worth mentioning that primary schools cover different areas of sustainability depending on the age of your child, some cover recycling first, whilst others look at renewable energy.

We also included ideas of fun activities and our top tips to help generalise the skills gained! With this handy guide to sustainability, you should have all you need to keep on going... (pardon the pun!)

If you are looking for additional Key Stage 2 Geography learning resources, you could run a search through our website to browse our articles, such as climate zones.

What Is Sustainability?

When we hear the word sustainability, it mostly refers to the environment, although there is economic sustainability and other forms of sustainability. We will be focussing on the environment and how to explain it to your children.

The earth has lots of resources that won’t last forever unless used sustainably; these include oil, fossil fuels and natural gases such as Methane. We use these daily, from heating our homes to running our cars. Unfortunately, across the world, we are now using these resources at a rate faster than we can make them, meaning they are currently unsustainable. These are also known as non-renewable resources, as once they run out- there will be no more.

Because of this, scientists across the world and many governments are encouraging people to opt for sustainable forms of renewable energy like wind and solar power. These are forms of energy that originate from the environment surrounding us, and cannot run out.

Wind turbines in the countryside generating sustainable, renewable energy.
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We can use wind farms to use the wind's power, and solar panels to turn the sun's into energy and electricity. This renewable energy can then be used as a substitute for unsustainable energy sources like coal, oil and gas; we will explain a bit more about these shortly.

Fossil Fuels Explained

Kids may well have heard of the term fossil fuels, and these include coal, nuclear energy, natural gas and oil. Although natural processes continually form fossil fuels, they are generally categorised as non-renewable resources. This is because they take millions of years to develop, and known reserves are being used up much faster than new ones are generated.

Natural Renewable Resources

In nature, there are several different energy sources, including the wind, waves, the heat of the earth and, of course, the sun. Using these lead to sustainable development.

Today, we can harness some of this energy to create electricity. Unlike fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), which formed over millions of years and are taken out of the ground, these sources of energy won’t run out.

The other big difference between fossil fuels and renewable sources of energy, such as wind power, is the number of greenhouse gases given off while making power for people. Generating electricity from renewable energy sources produces no (or very few) emissions of the gases that are impacting our climate. These include:

Solar energy – Collecting and using the sun’s rays as a power source.

Wind energy – Transforming wind energy into mechanical power.

Hydropower – Using the force of running water to power turbines to make electricity.

Bioenergy – this refers to materials from natural sources that can be used to generate electricity.

Why Does It Matter?

It is our responsibility to make informed choices about the products we use and where they come from. We all have a part to play in preventing climate crisis. Being a truly sustainable society means we need to make wise choices about the products we use. This is because our actions have a long-lasting effect on the environment, and we should protect it for our future generations.

Little boys sat relaxing against a tree, enjoying being outdoors in nature.
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Many people are already doing things like driving electric cars to help make the environment more sustainable. Environmental sustainability also refers to animals and other species and ensuring that they do not become extinct.

What Is Recycling?

Recycling also falls under the category of sustainability. When something is recycled, it is reused or turned into something else. Materials such as glass, metal and paper are quite straightforward to recycle, and certain types of plastic are too.

Things that aren’t recycled, such as things that go in the general rubbish, are taken to landfill sites.

Plastic Pollution

If you want to understand if something is sustainable, you should ask yourself the question- can I keep doing this forever?

Let’s take a closer look at plastic to understand this concept a little more. Plastic was introduced in the early 1900s but only became a mass-produced material with endless uses after WWII. By the 1990’s we started using plastic for everything from food containers, to games, toys, shoes, carrier bags and more. Now if we were to ask the question "can I keep doing this forever?" to the example of plastic, the answer is yes we could. But sadly plastic takes millions of years to decompose fully, and so the problem lies with what happens to all this plastic when we are finished using it?

Plastic bottle discarded in the sand on the beach.
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Many plastic items cannot be recycled, and some can only be used once then they must be thrown away. These are known as single-use plastics, and they include things such as bottles, crisp packets, straws and plastic bags. Over eight million tonnes of plastic enters into world’s seas every year and most of that escapes from the land. Plastic can be blown into the sea from boats and beaches, or carried there by the rivers. Some plastic also gets flushed down the toilet.

When left to degrade plastic can take hundreds of years to break down. Quite simply, it is not sustainable for us to keep on using them. If we keep using them at our current fast rate, we will harm the environment and lead to a climate crisis.

Many animals are getting caught up in plastics or eating them accidentally. However, by recycling or reusing items such as plastic bags and bottles, we can reduce the human impact on the environment.

What Makes A Sustainable Future?

As well as using renewable resources of energy, we can also become a more sustainable community by adhering to the reduce – reuse – recycle method. We can look at the things we use and ask:

Is it possible to reduce the amount of this product that we are using?

Is it possible to reuse this product in another way, instead of throwing it away?

Can we recycle parts of the product and use them for a different purpose?

Sustainability Top Tips

Here are some great sustainability activities to share with your under 10s, to spark their interest in this important topic.

Recycle

Around the home, get your kids involved in the recycling. Clearly label bins, so it’s easy for them to identify what goes where. This is a great way to start KS2 recycling activities

Plastic pollution activities

Go on a ‘green walk’ with your children and bring along some gloves and a bag, pick up any discarded plastic. Kids will enjoy feeling the impact that they have on the earth as they help clean up their neighbourhood or street.

Sort the rubbish

Many items that are put in the rubbish are compostable. Composting allows food to decompose naturally into fertile soil. Why not buy or make a composting unit for your kitchen?

Plant a herb garden or vegetable patch

Two kid's arms reaching to pick apples from the apple tree.
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Why not try to grow your own food and herbs? It’s an excellent idea for children to understand the life cycle of a plant,  where food comes from and transforming land use.

Collect fresh rainwater

Collect rainwater and then reuse it to water plants; this is a brilliant way of using a natural resource.

Reuse bags for shopping

When going to the shop, take an existing bag with you and avoid buying new ones each time. You can take existing plastic bags or cloth bags.

Plant a tree

Even if you don’t have a large outdoor space, planting even a small tree is of a great benefit to the environment and climate change. Share the importance of sustainable development.

Reuse items for arts and crafts

Leftover egg boxes or plastic bottles? Empty containers can readily become a new craft project or musical instrument.

Disclaimer

Disclaimer

At Kidadl we pride ourselves on offering families original ideas to make the most of time spent together at home or out and about, wherever you are in the world. We strive to recommend the very best things, that are suggested by our community and are things we would do ourselves - our aim is to be the trusted friend to parents. 

We try our very best, but cannot guarantee perfection. We will always aim to give you accurate information at the date of publication - however, information does change, so it's important you do your own research, double-check and make the decision that is right for your family.  

Kidadl provides inspiration for everything from family days out to online classes, arts, crafts and science experiments. We recognise that not all activities and ideas are appropriate and suitable for all children and families or in all circumstances. Our recommended activities are based on age but these are a guide. We recommend that these ideas are used as inspiration, that ideas are undertaken with appropriate adult supervision, and that each adult uses their own discretion and knowledge of their children to consider the safety and suitability.

Kidadl cannot accept liability for the execution of these ideas, and parental supervision is advised at all times, as safety is paramount. Anyone using the information provided by Kidadl does so at their own risk and we can not accept liability if things go wrong. 

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