On 4 May 2022, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and the Prada Group unveiled the "Kindergarten of the Lagoon", a new educational programme based on promoting Ocean Literacy principles and interaction with the environment. The initiative aims to foster a close connection between children and nature, using outdoor activities and interactions with the local community.
As the impacts of human activities and climate change continue to threaten the planet’s health on a global scale, the importance of sustainability must be underlined, especially from an early age. Hence, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) and Prada Group, as part of their wider partnership, have developed the “Kindergarten of the Lagoon”. The initiative, which aims to bring children closer to their natural environment, is an addition to their joint SEA BEYOND educational project, conceived to raise awareness of the need for ocean protection and sustainability in students.
The “Kindergarten of the Lagoon” initiative will promote engagement with the environment through an innovative multidisciplinary approach, promoting individual growth and a sustainable future. The initiative provides a school model inspired by the principles and objectives of the SDGs, particularly SDG 4 - Quality education and SDG 14 - Life below water. The Ocean Literacy principles lying at the core of this initiative will enable children aged 3 to 6 years old to connect with the sea and become the future protagonists of the Generation Ocean. The project is also based on outdoor education, a method that employs interactions with nature to stimulate active pedagogy and new environmental connections.
For centuries, Venice has illustrated the dynamic interaction between man and nature, underlining its capacity to act as a model for other similar ecosystems. Due to these ideal characteristics and the UNESCO World Heritage site, ‘Venice and its Lagoon’, it was selected as the implementation site of the pilot edition of the “Kindergarten of the Lagoon” initiative. Prada Group’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Lorenzo Bertelli, and the Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Ana Luiza M. Thompson-Flores, officially presented the initiative in Venice on 4 May 2022.
The press conference was an occasion for active members of the Scientific Committee dedicated to the project, including IOC-UNESCO Ocean Literacy Programme Specialist, Francesca Santoro, Professor Fabio Pranovi, of Ca’ Foscari University and environmental education expert, Francesca Milan, to contribute in explaining the educational and ecological approach at the forefront of the initiative. Lorenzo Bertelli of the Prada Group in particular underlined a genuine motivation to expand the project to a larger scale, whilst always following the same goals of enhancing sustainability and protecting marine environments through education.
Thematic lessons will be given to classes of 25 kindergarten students, conducted using outdoor education and aimed at discovering the lagoon ecosystem. This will be followed by creative stimulation and drawing at the end of each lesson. Prior to next September, there will be a presentation of the educational programme to preschools, from the Municipality of Venice, and local families during an open day.
Following in the footsteps of similar projects that include the ocean as part of their educational programmes, the “Kindergarten of the Lagoon” programme of activities will equip children with the tools to improve their understanding of the ocean and help them develop a sense of co-responsibility towards our planet. A direct association between them, their local culture and the reality of the nature that surrounds them is crucial achieve this. The children will meet fishermen, rowers, gondoliers, embroiderers, experts in local fauna and flora, and other people who live and work daily in the lagoon environment. A wide spectrum of topics will be taught, ranging from tidal variations to the impact of the climate on the sea. Ultimately, there will be a special focus on the importance of safeguarding the environment.
It will not only be about bringing the themes of the ocean to school, but also about trying to enrol children in a concrete experience to bond with nature. Experience-based learning will offer students the perception that sustainability is part of their life and future.
"Working in an open environment also enhances children’s social skills. It is a question of linking the environmental aspect to the cultural one." - Francesca Santoro, Ocean Literacy Programme Specialist, IOC-UNESCO.
Using the lagoon to provide an example of first-hand experiential learning, the “Kindergarten of the Lagoon” educational programme will provide children with knowledge and a vision of the ecosystem they live in. The creation of a special and physical connection with nature and the local community is key to raising awareness on the oceans’ and planet’s problems. Ultimately, it is fundamental that the future Generation Ocean experiences a dissemination of practical knowledge, so that they become more aware, appreciative and, specifically, more protective of their surrounding environment.
"The international community must make education one of the pillars of its action for the ocean, and engage in education to help today's youth become responsible and aware citizens of tomorrow." - Ana Luiza M. Thompson-Flores, Director, UNESCO Regional Bureau.