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Title: Problematising Sustainability in Nature Play Programs: Pedagogical Transformations and Ambitious Alignments
Contributor(s): Hughes, Jean Fran  (author); Elliott, Sue  (supervisor); Noone, Genevieve  (supervisor)
Conferred Date: 2021-03-02
Copyright Date: 2020-11
Open Access: Yes
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This doctoral study is situated in the growing international movement to connect children with nature in outdoor settings in early childhood education programs. The assumption that children’s/educators’ connections with nature equate with Education for Sustainability (EfS) was a key issue to be problematised, as were educators’ understandings of their own pedagogical roles in relation to a perceived nature-sustainability nexus. In this study, I explored educators’ understandings of a nature-sustainability nexus and its influence on their pedagogies in Australian Nature Immersive Programs (NIPs).

The study evolved from my professional concerns about how slowly the early childhood sector has addressed sustainability issues and the lack of curriculum guidance around Early Childhood Education for Sustainability. Australian policy requirements for early childhood education promote stewardship, respect and care, but often the ‘romanticised’ sensory discourse is the route promoted and subsequently taken by educators. With the rapid growth of NIP programs in Australia, I argue it was timely to question whether EfS was being implemented, or were educators assuming that connections with nature were enough to develop strong approaches to EfS.

Two early childhood education centre communities offering NIPs as an integral part of their curriculum were invited to participate in the study. Both communities provided nature play programs for children aged three to five years that involved regularly taking children beyond the centre boundaries. A social constructionist theoretical framework was employed, alongside Participatory Action Research (PAR) and Appreciative Inquiry (AI) methodologies. Data were collected over an eight-month period where insights into the perceptions of the educators about sustainability and nature were sought. The data collection methods included individual interviews, focus groups, reflective journals and field notes from NIP observations.

PAR was the vehicle for transformative learning which presented the educator participants and me, as a researcher participant, the opportunity to problematise and engage in both innovative and transformative thinking and practice. AI was employed as a complimentary methodology to potentially empower participants to reflect on new ideas and create new knowledges. The participant transformative changes/movement were illuminated through iterative analysis of the study data.

The study findings I have encapsulated as five ambitious alignments drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of rhizomes and lines of flight: relationality and the influence of place; pedagogy in the bush creating a nature-sustainability nexus; influential alignments; transformative change; and, moving from romanticised notions and human-nature dualisms towards a commonworlds framework.

The participants appeared challenged by the alignments and the movements in their thinking as they grappled with new ideas. The study offered time and space to reflect and re-construct, which resulted in transformative change for both the educators and me as researcher. This opportunity led to deeper understandings of a nature-sustainability nexus for all and the examination of emergent ambitious alignments.

Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Fields of Research (FoR) 2008: 130102 Early Childhood Education (excl. Maori)
130202 Curriculum and Pedagogy Theory and Development
130399 Specialist Studies in Education not elsewhere classified
Fields of Research (FoR) 2020: 390302 Early childhood education
390102 Curriculum and pedagogy theory and development
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2008: 930102 Learner and Learning Processes
930103 Learner Development
930201 Pedagogy
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2020: 160302 Pedagogy
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
Appears in Collections:School of Education
Thesis Doctoral

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