Grant holder
Luke Addison, University of Edinburgh
Project status
In Progress

A doctoral project examining what sustainability can look like in the early years and exploring children’s experiences of nature, the environment and materials.

Project summary

The aim of this PhD research is to bring children’s voices to the fore of education for sustainability in the early years while opening possibilities for the role of the practitioner-researcher to ‘live with’ children, nature and the environment. Working mainly within the spatialities and geographies of childhood, this study gathers around the intersection of space and the everyday lives of children. As such, it employs various spatial concepts and perspectives to understand children’s voices in sustainability education, echoing Froebel’s belief in participation and emphasis on the environment, being one with nature.

Dominant understandings of children across western and minority world countries draw heavily on developmental psychology, which plots children on the path to ‘becoming’ adult. Within education and specifically sustainability education, seeing children solely as ‘becomings’ means they are often positioned as saviours - future leaders to overcome our ‘legacy of inaction’ (Mackenzie & Rousell, 2018).

As such, approaches tend to focus on building children’s knowledge of environmental issues, often structured around adult inspired goals. Research tells us that this knowledge is often found to be inaccurate and profoundly shaped by the media, while the scientific, knowledge-based teaching approach has proved unsuccessful in its aim to affect children’s attitudes and behaviours toward the environment (Brownlee, Powell, and Jeffery, 2013).

It is argued that children’s voices in these approaches are unheard and, if we want to better understand children and childhood, we must find better ways to unlock them (Kellet, 2005). Particularly so as it relates to the most significant challenge facing the planet at this time.

Research design

This doctoral project works with alternative conceptualisations of what sustainability can look like in the early years and explores children’s tacit embodied experiences of nature, the environment and materials. Through this, children are understood not just in a human-centered socio-cultural context, but in “complexly entwined and collectively agentic more-than-human worlds” (Rooney, 2018). The research draws from multiple concepts around ‘topophilia’ and ‘connection to nature’ such as ‘enchantment’, ‘wayfaring’ and ‘common worlding’ (Tuan, 1974; Beery & Jorgensen, 2016; Ingold, 2011, 2013; Taylor & Giugni, 2012 and Haraway, 2016).

In doing so, it aims to analyse and present children’s voices through descriptions that support practitioners in ways of living with children which deviate from the traditional developmental paradigm.

A final report is expected in 2024 and will be published here.