Experimenting first with her own children, Claire has designed innovative environmental educational content for some of France’s youngest populations. By teaching them natural environment observation, gardening, and eco-citizenship (improved behaviors for dealing with waste and conserving water and energy), Claire shows that sustainable development can be taught at any age. Inspired by “active” pedagogies, such as the Freinet Movement, she gives children a central role in her workshops, which improves their capacity to learn and remember. Combining experimentation and an effort to reawaken senses, she shifts children’s perception of their environment while shaping a new sensitivity to nature. While they were previously not used in the educational context, the sea, the soil, and all ecosystems turn into rich experimentation labs, and waste—such as cans, jars or paper tubes—can be repurposed into amazing toys. These strategies were first offered to kindergartens to expose children to nature and the environment at the earliest possible ages. Claire has also taken what she learned and spread her approach through various partnerships with primary, junior, and high schools as well as extracurricular organizations all over the French southwestern region. Her non-profit association also owns an ecology-related after-school club that welcomes fifty children on a regular basis. In seven years, about 25,000 kids have actively participated in her programs.
Claire sought to reinforce the impact of her programs and curriculum by ensuring that the early childhood centers were operating in a way that reflected the values and ideas behind environmental protection and sustainability. To do this, Claire created a special Eco-Crèche label to certify those education centers that are committed to integrating ecological behavior in their daily activities. To attain this certification, she does an initial diagnosis or audit of the early childhood center and the ways in which it could become more environmentally sustainable. Claire then conducts a short and simple “focus group” that includes all employees. She asks simple, straightforward questions that are not judgmental, and are designed to reduce individuals discomfort with environmental protection or any guilt they might have that they are not doing enough. Claire also focuses on reducing their perception that environmental protection is complicated and tries to enlist them at the earliest stages in solving the problem for their particular center. From this initial diagnosis, she and the team develop an action plan that enlists every adult at the center to play a role in making the center more environmentally sustainable, whether it is turning off the lights, recycling, using cloth diapers, buying organic food, or other steps. Claire is also empowering these professionals through various practical trainings and tools (i.e. booklets, DVDs, a collaborative website, and a shared database of green providers). To incentivize and reward change at this level, Claire certifies successful initiatives with an Ecolo-Crèche label, which now has national recognition.
Boosted by the good results of the first twenty centers labeled Ecolo-Crèches, Claire has created a two-part strategy to spread her model throughout the French territory. First, she builds strategic alliances with kindergarten groups to reach a critical number of organizations (e.g. she is developing a partnership with the City of Paris to reach 450 early childhood centers); second, she is setting-up a network of partnerships to train and support the early childhood centers at the local level. Thus far, Claire has trained six environmental associations or consulting companies, and she aims to train up to 100 consulting professionals by 2015, who will then be responsible for training and supporting local early childhood schools.
Focusing on the growth of her organization, Claire also created a research and development lab to experiment with the adaptation of her methods on new target audiences and other sectors, such as tourism. To date, 8,000 adults have benefited from the tools and trainings created at this lab, such as practical-ecology toolkits, a resource center in the City of Marseille, and innovative workshops to raise awareness at enterprises and fairs.