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Young Children, Nature, and Sustainability: Cultivating a Foundation for Contributions to Sustainability through Nature Experiences and Pedagogies

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Education and Approaches".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 July 2021) | Viewed by 21549

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Department of Applied Human Sciences, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, MN 55812, USA
Interests: early childhood environmental education; children and nature connections; environmental education outcomes; environmental education teacher professional development

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Guest Editor
Department of Educational Sciences and Teacher Education, University of Oulu, Oulu, 90120, Finland
Interests: playful learning; agencies in outdoor learning; technology-enhanced learning and teaching; collaborative learning; young children and diverse learning environments

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Guest Editor
Department of Physical Education, Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education, Trondheim, N-7044, Norway
Interests: rough and tumble play; young children’s indoor and outdoor play environments; teachers; children’s and parents’ perceptions and practices of play

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Environmental and sustainability education (ESE) for young children has great potential for fostering the values, dispositions, skills, and behaviors that support sustainability. While there is consensus internationally regarding the need for ESE to begin early in life, there are divergent views regarding what ESE at the early childhood level should entail. One perspective emphasizes the importance of nature play and other nature-based experiences for nurturing affective and experiential connections with the world around them. These experiences in nature can cultivate a solid foundation from which, in due time, young children can draw upon for visioning and creating a healthy, just, and sustainable future. This perspective, however, has been criticized for impeding young children’s rights and responsibilities to participate in sustainability decision-making and action-taking. Consequently, another perspective advocates for a more transformative, participatory orientation to ESE through viewing young children as agents of change and involving them in exploring worldviews, problem-posing, decision-making, advocacy, and action

We are seeking a range of contributions (empirical research, theoretical perspectives, reviews or meta-analyses, practitioner essays or action research, etc.) to this Special Issue that address the contributions of early childhood nature-based pedagogies, practices, and experiences to a sustainable future. Our aim is for a collection of papers that shed light on the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and values that may ground and encourage examination of issues and meaningful action when children are older. This Special Issue will help counter the call for a more critical and transformative form of early childhood environmental education, serving as a reminder to researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers of the developmental appropriateness and value of nature play and other nature experiences in the quest for a sustainable future.

Examples of topics or themes for manuscript submissions include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • How young children perceive their place in the environment
  • What is the impact of nature play or other nature experiences on young children’s:
    • Love, appreciation, and care for nature
    • Connections with nature
    • Environmental identity
    • Engagement in learning
    • Joy and wonder in the world around them
    • Empathy and compassion
    • Sense of hope
    • Sense of belonging
    • Understandings regarding “big ideas” in sustainability (community, cycles, interdependence, change, etc.)
  • What are the pathways or causal mechanisms between the antecedent outcomes (any of the above individually or collectively) and sustainability behaviors?
  • What constitutes developmentally appropriate agency in early childhood education? What nature-based experiences aid in fostering agency in early childhood?
  • Do perceptions of agency and/or developmentally appropriate early experiences in ESE vary by SES, ethnicity, cultural background, and other social factors?
  • What nature pedagogies and practices work in practice toward supporting outcomes relevant in the context of sustainability? How are nature contact interventions implemented and how do they work in terms of yielding desired sustainability-related/antecedent outcomes and for attracting audiences to the intervention? What configurations of nature-based experiences and programming optimize sustainability-related/antecedent outcomes for young children?

Adjunct Prof. Dr. Julie Ernst
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pirkko Siklander
Dr. Rune Storli
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • young children
  • early childhood environmental education
  • nature pedagogies
  • nature play

Published Papers (4 papers)

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20 pages, 3412 KiB  
Article
Pre-Service Early Childhood Educator Experience in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
by Thomas Beery and Ola Magntorn
Sustainability 2021, 13(8), 4231; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13084231 - 10 Apr 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 2771
Abstract
There has been significant interest in the values and benefits of early childhood nature experiences on children’s well-being and development. One aspect of studying the exposure of children to nature that requires more focus is the role played by early childhood educators. In [...] Read more.
There has been significant interest in the values and benefits of early childhood nature experiences on children’s well-being and development. One aspect of studying the exposure of children to nature that requires more focus is the role played by early childhood educators. In particular, there is a need for early childhood environmental education training for pre-service educators. This study will explore the use of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve as an outdoor classroom for early childhood environmental education pre-service professionals. Exploratory quantitative and qualitative descriptive data from a series of three short surveys (pre/post/delayed post) provide a basic overview of pre-service teacher perspectives, experiences, and outcomes of an environmental education intervention. The results indicate that the participating pre-service educators had little to no familiarity with the environmental concepts or the biosphere reserve site before participation in the intervention. The post-intervention and delayed post-intervention results show that pre-service educators perceived that their understanding of the concept had improved. The results also show a perception of the positive role that biosphere reserve sites can play in early childhood education. Three critical implications emerged from the overall quantitative and qualitative results: (1) specific support should be given for early childhood environmental education training; (2) biosphere reserve functions provide support for efforts to improve connections to nature; (3) early childhood education has the potential to support the broadening of the biosphere reserve audience. Full article
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16 pages, 1614 KiB  
Article
Norwegian Kindergarten Children’s Knowledge about the Environmental Component of Sustainable Development
by Claudia Melis, Per-Arvid Wold, Kathrine Bjørgen and Børge Moe
Sustainability 2020, 12(19), 8037; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12198037 - 29 Sep 2020
Cited by 15 | Viewed by 5970
Abstract
Although kindergarten children are the group of citizens who will face the consequences of today’s environmental challenges, research on their knowledge about environmental sustainability is limited. In June 2019, we interviewed 56 children (five to six years old) from eight kindergartens in Norway [...] Read more.
Although kindergarten children are the group of citizens who will face the consequences of today’s environmental challenges, research on their knowledge about environmental sustainability is limited. In June 2019, we interviewed 56 children (five to six years old) from eight kindergartens in Norway and asked kindergarten staff and the children’s parents to fill out a short questionnaire. The aim of the study was to investigate children’s knowledge of how our actions affect the natural environment and children’s self-declared sense of belonging to nature. Our results show that upon completing kindergarten, many children had gained an early understanding of environmental sustainability. Garbage disposal, deforestation, and air pollution from vehicles were the environmental issues children were most aware. We detected a positive association between time spent in nature with parents and children’s knowledge; this emphasizes the importance of children spending time in nature with their parents. Full article
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18 pages, 6867 KiB  
Article
Exploring Access to Nature Play in Urban Parks: Resilience, Sustainability, and Early Childhood
by Thomas Beery
Sustainability 2020, 12(12), 4894; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12124894 - 15 Jun 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 5253
Abstract
Nature play is an important component of the development of resilience in early childhood. Nature play is also an element of urban sustainability through a consideration of access to urban nature. From the foundation of access to nature play as a part of [...] Read more.
Nature play is an important component of the development of resilience in early childhood. Nature play is also an element of urban sustainability through a consideration of access to urban nature. From the foundation of access to nature play as a part of both resilience and sustainability considerations, a mixed-method case study was initiated. Spatial analysis, survey outreach, and focus group methodology have been combined to consider whether city parkland provides access for preschools to incorporate nature play, and, further, whether other barriers may exist to limit or prevent the use of city parks for nature play by preschool programs. The results indicate the existence of quality proximate access, but other factors creating barriers for broader application of nature play exist. The results also illustrate the critical role of public access to public parks as part of urban sustainability and the development of resilience in young children. The implications for the use of city parkland for nature play are presented. Full article
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36 pages, 930 KiB  
Systematic Review
Contributions to Sustainability through Young Children’s Nature Play: A Systematic Review
by Julie Ernst, Kerri McAllister, Pirkko Siklander and Rune Storli
Sustainability 2021, 13(13), 7443; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13137443 - 02 Jul 2021
Cited by 15 | Viewed by 6014
Abstract
Nature play with young children has been criticized for lacking the transformative power necessary for meaningfully contributing to sustainability issues. The purpose of this systematic review was to identify outcomes associated with young children’s nature play that align with Education for Sustainability outcomes, [...] Read more.
Nature play with young children has been criticized for lacking the transformative power necessary for meaningfully contributing to sustainability issues. The purpose of this systematic review was to identify outcomes associated with young children’s nature play that align with Education for Sustainability outcomes, toward addressing the question of its contribution to a more sustainable future. A total of 272 citation records were screened using eligibility and quality appraisal criteria, resulting in 32 studies that were reviewed. These studies’ outcomes were coded and then mapped to an education for sustainability framework. Results suggest that nature play supports education for sustainability benchmarks of applied knowledge, dispositions, skills, and applications. The multiple and varied relevant outcomes associated with nature play suggest practitioners should not abandon nature play in the pursuit of sustainability. Implications for practice and further research are discussed. Full article
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