Research Summary

Nature by default in early childhood education for sustainability

Early childhood education for sustainability calls for more meaningful engagement of children with nature.

Australian Journal of Environmental Education

This article presents a critique of the current theories relating to children’s play in nature. The argument is made that a reliance on these theories may be potentially thwarting a fuller and more meaningful engagement of children with nature, especially as this relates to sustainability.

The authors discuss how current nature-play initiatives reflect the romanticized images of children and nature as outlined in the works of Froebel, Rousseau, and other theorists and historical figures. Such images, the authors maintain, fail to address the pressing challenges of sustainability and perpetuate a hierarchical and dualistic view of the human-nature relationship. This view places humans (children included) in a dominant relationship with nature.

Also included in this article is a discussion about an emerging body of research in early childhood education for sustainability (ECEfS) which presents an alternative view of children’s relationship with nature. This research identifies children as “empowered decision-makers, action-takers and problem-solvers for sustainability” and is based on an ethic of partnership with nature.

The authors call for a critical questioning of how human-nature relationships are presented in early childhood education. They maintain that until we do question this relationship and move beyond romantic views of children in nature, we will fail to fully address issues of sustainability.