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Environmental education and fun can go hand in hand.

As the creators of the Ekolandia project show, making the youngest aware of the need for sustainable construction does not have to be boring. The ecological park, through sensory play, encourages children to think about the environment. The Ekolandia project won second place in the Build the Beauty startup competition. The three students responsible for the initiative talk about their idea, difficult beginnings and the final gala.

The beginnings of the project

Alicja Kwiatkowska, Julia Slonecka and Natalia Makowska, the students who created the innovative Ekoladia project, note that in the beginning their team looked very different. There were two other people who stopped participating after a few meetings – the students say in an interview with Coopernicus. However, once they came up with the final idea of what Ekolandia should be, the project quickly began to take shape.

“The moment we decided that our target group was children, Natalia suggested a great idea – make it all sensory. So that children can learn by experiencing”

– says Alicja.

Natalia adds about her initiative:

 “The most important issue was to stimulate the children, with all their senses, to learn. We noticed that children are overstimulated by technology, so we wanted to separate them from unnecessary use of technological tools.”

Build the Beauty competition and sensory ecological park for the youngest.

The three students’ project was created as part of the Build the Beauty startup competition, which was organized by L’Oreal and Saint-Gobain. The competition was divided into two parts – beauty and architecture. The group of female students was assigned to the part focusing on sustainable construction. 

After an intensive one-week marathon, which was part of the competition and many online meetings, the team of students presented their comprehensive project. It was a plan of creating an ecological park, Ekolandia. The park is divided into four zones, each of which teaches children something different.

External material: Ecolandia Team

For example – the first zone is the “sick house.” There, children can see a comparison of typical “sick” construction and, in contrast, a green house. By observing the differences between the traditional approach and the green ones, the little ones can see for themselves how valuable sustainable building is.

Other zones include a water system where kids can observe nature up close. Ekolandia also focuses on implementing lots of greenery and playing with nature all around the park. All four zones are built outdoors.

“We emphasized in these zones what many people forget. That building design is not just about building and living there. It’s a longer process – design, construction, use, demolition. We need to think about this when we talk about green building. Hence the demolition zone. Children there learn that it’s worth paying attention to the materials used to build and what happens after the building is taken apart”

– Natalia says about another zone.

“Through games, fun, sensory, collecting points, children would learn which solutions for the future are right”

– Julia sums up the idea.

Advice from the youngest and where are the turtles?

Interestingly, the students held consultations with their target group – children aged 7 to 14. As they themselves note it was very helpful for them.

“The children said what they liked and what they didn’t like. One of the girls told us that the park was great, and she would take her friends there. And that gave us such a boost,” they say excitedly. But the students add that they also heard criticism from some: “But we also got a flick on the nose. One boy told us that the park is not that interesting, and he would like to see turtles swimming in Ekolandia.”

The students add that during the consultations, they came up with an interesting way to engage the little ones. They created a cartoon that showed a girl with her mother in Ekolandia. “We presented the project like a fairy tale. We told the story in such a way that the children would get into it as much as possible,” says Alicia.

External material: Ecolandia Team

Final gala and second place

Another interesting fact is that Julia and Alicja, who are studying management and leadership together at SWPS, only met Natalia – who is studying architecture at Rzeszow University of Technology – at the finals.

“It was amazing. Because if it wasn’t for Natalia this project wouldn’t have looked like this.” – they say. Natalia adds about the collaboration: “It was a good fit. The girls thought it through very well in terms of budget and startup. And I took care of the architectural part. I knew where the gaps in education were and what was missing.”

At the final gala, the girls had to present their project:

“Each project had six minutes to present. So little! We had about twenty slides. There was also a talk with the jury, also lasting only six minutes.” – says Julia.

After the teams’ presentations, the jury handed out the awards. The three students’ project got second place.

“We expected to win something. We were very excited and were happy to go to the center to collect the award. It was a great honor for us, because for each of us it was the first time in such a competition. It’s such a boost for us for the future,” Julia enthuses.

Natalia also notes that one of the jurors singled out Ekolandia when receiving the award:

“She said she wanted to recognize this project because she thinks it’s worth aiming high. That sums up well what we did.”

The future of the project – education and ecology

For the moment, however, Ekolandia will not become another interesting park on the map of Poland.

“We’re in our twenties, and it’s a heavily costly project. So realistically for now there is no chance for the initiative to become a reality. But it is an inspiration for us to create smaller projects. Maybe there is also a future for Ekolandia too,” says Alicia.

The girls emphasize that their ecological park would have a positive impact on both making the youngest aware of ecology and would positively impact education. Natalia talks about seeing the problem of rigid education and the need for change:

“We wanted to introduce something that would reconcile education with activities and curiosity, so that learning would come easily to children. We were guided by psychology and sociology. When we stimulate more senses, we absorb knowledge faster. And we want to provide the best possible environment for children to learn while having fun at the same time.”

Julia adds that the project demonstrates the values of ecology and the need to take care of the planet, which can translate into children’s later choices when they themselves face the decision to buy or build a house:

“They may have a different approach than their parents because of this. This will positively translate into the distant future.”

Alicja adds another important aspect of the project – the children are also their parents:

“Because a seven-year-old child, before he or she goes somewhere, their parent has to give their consent. So, we gave a kind of 2-in-1 package – an amusement park that teaches the children, but also the parents of those children.”

And Ekolandia is a really innovative place. In an interview with Coopernicus, Alicja stresses that there is no such educational and environmental park anywhere in Poland.

If the project were to become a reality, the girls already have ready ideas for the further development of Ekolandia. They are talking about a building that would be an example of sustainable construction. At the same time, it would be the main building of the park, where various workshops and meetings would be held, involving not only children, but also specialists and people at all stages of life – not only children but also adults and seniors.

And while we likely have to wait for such a park for a little longer, innovative ideas like Ekolandia show what is possible.

Barbara Niemczyk
Bio:
I graduated from a bachelor's degree in applied linguistics and a master's degree in journalism. I have done numerous internships and fellowships in the past years, including a translation traineeship at one of the EU Institutions and a journalistic fellowship at Deutsche Welle. I have a big passion for telling stories, talking with people and exchanging ideas. I am proactive and have excellent writing skills and ease at making new connections. I like to spend my free time sailing, hiking and practicing Ashtanga Yoga.
Written by:

Barbara Niemczyk

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