Respect for Nature – A Prescription for Developing Environmental Awareness in Preschool

  • Eva Ärlemalm–Hagsér
Keywords: Early childhood education, Education for sustainability, Environmental ethics, Critical theory


Embedded in the notion of sustainability lies a striving for an environmentally sustainable world and respect and care for the non-human world, as well as efforts to establish social, economic and political justice or all people. This paper deals with education for sustainability in Swedish pre-schools from two perspectives: first, the views held concerning the relationship between human beings and nature; second, young children’s participation and agency. The theoretical underpinning is informed by critical theory with a case study approach. The empirical material is derived from 21 applications, which were from Swedish preschools to be certified with »The Diploma of Excellence in Sustainable Development« (Swedish National Agency for Education). The main findings show that few critical questions are raised about the human-nature relationship in the applications, even though views concerning the connectedness with, and care and respect for the natural world are emphasised. Children’s participation and agency are neglected in a structure of ready-made views, activities and working methods already imbedded in the current pedagogical practices. Implications for research and practice would be to further explore how the understandings of the relationship between humans and nature are constructed within early childhood education. 


Download data is not yet available.


Agenda 21. (1992). Agenda 21 – Table of Contents. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Division for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from

Ärlemalm-Hagsér, E. (2008). Skogen som pedagogisk praktik ur ett genusperspektiv. In A. Sandberg (Ed.), Miljöer för lek, lärande och samspel [Environments for play, learning and communication] (pp. 107–136). Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Ärlemalm-Hagsér, E. (2012). Lärande för hållbar utveckling i förskolan – Kunskapsinnehåll, delaktighet och aktörskap kommunicerat i text [Education for Sustainable Development –
Knowledge content, Participation and Agency]. Nordisk barnehageforskning, 5(2), 1–21.

Hacking, E., Barratt, R., & Scott, W. (2007). Engaging children: research issues around participation and environmental learning. Environmental Education Research, 13(4), 529–544.

Bonnett, M. (2002). Education for Sustainability as a Frame of Mind. Environmental Education Research, 8(1), 9–20.

Chawla, L. (1998). Significant Life Experiences Revisited: A Review of Research on Sources of Environmental Sensitivity. The Journal of Environmental Education, 29(3), 11–21.

Chawla, L. (1999). Life paths Into Effective Environmental Action. The Journal of Environmental Education, 31(1), 15–26.

Chawla, L., & Flanders Cushing, D. (2007). Education for strategic environmental behaviour. Environmental Education Research, 13(4), 437–452.

Dahlbeck, J., & Tallberg Broman, I. (2011). Ett bättre samhälle genom pedagogik: högre värden och barnet som budbärare [A better society through education: values and the child as a messenger]. In P. Williams & S. Sheridan (Eds.), Barns lärande i ett livslångt perspektiv (pp. 202–214). Stockholm: Liber.

Dahlberg, G., & Moss, P. (2005). Ethics and politics in early childhood education. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Davis, J. (2008). What might education for sustainability look like in early childhood? A case for participatory, whole-of-setting approaches. In I. Pramling-Samuelsson & Y. Kaga (Eds.), The
contribution of early childhood education to a sustainable society (pp. 18–24). UNESCO Report. Paris: France.

Davis, J. (2009). Revealing the research ‘hole’ of early childhood education for sustainability: A preliminary survey of the literature. Environmental Education Research, 15(2), 227–241.

Davis, J. (Ed.) (2010). Young Children and the Environment Early Education for Sustainability. New York, US: Cambridge University Press.

Davis, J. (2011). Early childhood education: the natural starting point for environmental education. In Green Education an A-Z Guide (pp. 115–117). Los Angles, US: Sage.

Davis, J., & Elliott, S. (2003). Early childhood environmental education: Making it mainstream. Canberra: Early Childhood Australia.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.) (2005). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd ed.). London: Sage Publications.

Duhn, I. (2012). Making ‘place’ for ecological sustainability in early childhood education, Environmental Education Research, 18(1), 19–29.

Elliott, S. (Ed.) (2008). The Outdoor Playspace: Naturally. Sydney: Pademelon Press.

Elliott, S. (2010). Children in the natural world. In J. Davis (Ed.), Young Children and the Environment Early Education for Sustainability (pp. 43–75). New York, US: Cambridge University Press.
Emilson, A. (2011). Democracy Learning in a Preschool Context. In N. Pramling & I. Pramling-Samuelsson (Eds.), Educational Encounters: Nordic Studies in Early Childhood (pp. 157–171).
Dordrecht: Springer.

Engdahl, I., & Rabušicová, M. (2011). Children’s Voices about the State of the Earth. International Journal of Early Childhood, 43(2), 153–176.

Ewert, A., Place, G., & Sibthorp, J. (2005). Early-Life Outdoor Experiences and an Individual‘s Environmental Attitudes. Leisure Sciences, 27, 225–239.

Fraser, N. (2003). Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics: Redistribution, Recognition, and Participation. In N. Fraser & A. Honneth (Eds.), Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-
Philosophical Exchange (pp. 7–109). London: Verso.

Fraser, N. (2009). Scales of Justice: Reimagining political space in a globalizing world. New York: Columbia University Press.

Fritzgerald, R., Greyham, A., Smith, A., & Taylor, N. (2010). Children’s participation as a struggle over recognition: exploring the promise of dialogue. In B. Percy-Smith & N. Thomas (Eds.), A
handbook of children and young people‘s participation: perspectives from theory and practice (pp. 293–305). London: Routledge.

Graneheim, U. H., & Lundman, B. (2004). Qualitative content analysis in nursing research: Concepts, procedures and measures to achieve trustworthiness. Nurse Education Today, 24(2), 105–112.

Habermas, J. (1998). On the pragmatics of communication. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Halldén, G. (2009). Naturen som symbol för den goda barndomen [Nature as representation for the good childhood]. Stockholm: Carlsson.

Halldén, G. (Ed.) (2011). Barndomens skogar. Om barn och natur och barns natur [Forests of the childhood. Children and nature and children’s nature]. Stockholm: Carlsson.

Hart, R. A. (1997). Children‘s participation: the theory and practice of involving young citizens in community development and environmental care. London: Earthscan.

Johansson, E., & Pramling-Samuelsson, I. (2003). Barns perspektiv och barnperspektiv i pedagogisk forskning och praxis [Child Perspectives and Children’s Perspectives in Theory and Practice]. Pedagogisk forskning i Sverige, 8(1–2), 1–5.

James, A., & James, A. L. (2004). Constructing Childhood. Theory, Policy and Social practice. New York: Palmgrave Macmillan.

James, A., & Prout, A. (1997). Constructing and reconstructing childhood (2nd ed.) London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Kahriman-Ozturk, D., Olgan, R., & Tuncer, G. (2012). A Qualitative Study on Turkish Preschool Children’s Environmental Attitudes Though Ecocentrism and Anthropocentrism. International
Journal of Science Education, 34(4), 629–650.

Kjørholt, T. (2005). The competent child and ‘the right to be oneself ’: reflections on children as fellow citizen in an early childhood center. In A. Clark, A. T. Kjørholt, & P. Moss (Eds.), Beyond listening: children‘s perspectives on early childhood services (pp. 151–173). Bristol: The Policy Press.

Kjørholt, A. T., & Qvortrup, J. (Eds.) (2012). The modern child and the flexible labour market: early childhood education and care. Houndmills, Basingstoke Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kopnina, H. (2012). Education for sustainable development (ESD): the turn away from ‘environment’ in environmental education? Environmental Education Research, 18(5), 699–717.

Kronlid, D. (2005). Miljöetik i praktiken: åtta fall ur svensk miljö- och utvecklingshistoria [Practical Environmental Ethics: Eight Cases from Sweden]. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Lee, N. (2009). Mot en omogen sociologi [Towards an immature sociology]. Lokus: Journal of Research in Childhood and Youth, 21(3–4), 60–79.

Mackey, G. (2012). To know, to decide, to act: the young child’s right to participate in action for the environment. Environmental Education Research, 18(4), 473–484.

Manson, J., & Bolzan, N. et al. (2010). Questioning understandings of children’s participation. Applying a cross-cultural lens. In B. Percy-Smith & N. Thomas (Eds.), A handbook of children and young people‘s participation: perspectives from theory and practice (pp. 125–132). London: Routledge.

Merchant, C. (1994). Naturens död: kvinnan, ekologin och den vetenskapliga revolutionen [The death of nature]. Stockholm: B. Östlings bokförlag. Symposion.

Naess, A. (1989). Ecology, community and lifestyle: Outline of an ecosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Öhman, J. (2011). Theme: New Swedish environmental and sustainability education research. Education & Democracy, 20(1), 3–12.

Plumwood, V. (2002). Environmental Culture. The ecological crisis of reason. New York: Routledge.

Pramling-Samuelsson, I. (2011).Why We Should Begin Early with ESD: The role of Early Childhood Education. International Journal of Early Childhood, 43(2), 103–118.

Pramling-Samuelsson, I., & Sheridan, S. (2003). Delaktighet som värdering och pedagogik. [Participation as a value and a pedagogical issue]. Pedagogisk forskning i Sverige, 8(1–2), 70–84.

Prout, A. (2005). The future of childhood. London: RoutledgeFarmer.

Qvortrup, J. (2008). Childhood and politics. Educare, 3, 7–19. Retrieved from

Ritchie, J., Duhn, I., Rau, C., & Craw, J. (2010). Titiro Whakamuri, Hoki Whakamua. We are the future, the present and the past. Caring for self, others and the environment in early years learning. Wellington: Teaching and Learning Research Initiative.

Sandell, K., & Öhman, J. (2010). Educational potentials of encounters with nature: reflections from a Swedish outdoor perspective. Environmental Education Research, 16(1), 113–132.

Sandell, K., Öhman, J., & Östman, L. (2005). Education for Sustainable Development. Nature, School and Democracy. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Scott, W., & Gough, S. (2004). Key Issues in Sustainable Development and Learning: A critical review. London and New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Shier, H. (2001). Pathways to Participation: Openings, Opportunities and Obligations. Children and Society, 15(2), 107–117.

Siraj-Blatchford, J., Smith, K., & Pramling-Samuelson, I. (2010). Education for Sustainable Development in the Early Years. Organisation Mondiale Pour l’Education. SKOLFS (2004:20).
Förordning om utmärkelsen Skola för hållbar utveckling [Decree concerning the honour: School for Sustainable Development]. Ministry of Education and Science.

Sommer, D., Pramling-Samuelsson, I., & Hundeide, K. (2011). Barnperspektiv och barnens perspektiv i teori och praktik [Child Perspectives and Children’s Perspectives in Theory and Practice]. Stockholm: Liber.

Stake, R. E. (2005).Qualitative Case Studies. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd ed.) (pp. 443–466). London: Sage Publications.

The Swedish National Agency for Education. (2011a). National Statics of the Swedish Preschool. Sweden: The Swedish National Agency for Education.

The Swedish National Agency for Education. (2011b). Curriculum for the pre-school, Lpfö 98. Stockholm, Sweden: The Swedish National Agency for Education. Retrieved from http://www.

United Nations (1989). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from

Wilson, R. (1997). Environmental Education. A sense of Place. Early Childhood Education Journal, 24(3), 191–194.

Wolff, L-A. (2011). Nature and Sustainability: An Educational Study with Rousseau and Foucault (Doctoral thesis, Åbo Akademi University). Saarbrûcken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing AG Co KG.