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Title: Investigating Influences on Early Childhood Educators’ Outdoor Nature-Related Practices with Children from Six Weeks to Under Three Years of Age
Contributor(s): Kinley, Jayne Leanne  (author); Elliott, Susan  (supervisor); Sims, Margaret  (supervisor)orcid 
Conferred Date: 2022-03-01
Copyright Date: 2021
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In this thesis, I describe a qualitative journey that occurred over twelve months in two research phases. The first phase, referred to as Phase A, explores the professional lives and outdoor practices of a centre-based group of early childhood educators, and the conditions and narratives that influenced the outdoor nature-related experiences they offered children under three years of age. With increased awareness of the importance of children’s early connections with nature, there are requirements for educators in Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings to create outdoor environments that encourage young children’s respectful appreciation of the natural world and understandings of their roles within it. Educators must also examine theoretical perspectives and pedagogical understandings when offering outdoor nature experiences and the policy expectations applied to practices with all children in ECEC settings, including those aged from birth to under three years. Professional experience suggests that while educators are committed to offering such experiences, they face multiple challenges in constructing effective pedagogies to realise their intentions.

My interest in educators’ outdoor nature-related practices with very young children emerged from working alongside educators in outdoor spaces. In particular, the observed inequities between nature-related experiences offered to infants and toddlers and similar experiences offered to older children provoked a need for deeper understandings. Thus, in this study relationships between educators’ outdoor naturerelated practices and conditions that influenced those practices were investigated. Educators at Stoney Bay Early Learning Centre (pseudonym) were invited into a critical participatory action research (CPAR) project intended to provoke reflections on their own relationships with nature, interpretations of policy expectations and their outdoor roles, perceptions of very young children, and the influence these experiences and perceptions potentially had on their practices. An interpretive thematic analysis was conducted drawing upon the underpinning critical and socio-constructivist theoretical perspectives.

While the CPAR experience encouraged deeper thinking about existing outdoor naturerelated practices resulting in some changes to outdoor spaces and experiences offered, Phase A study findings also revealed a shortfall in pedagogical and theoretical knowledges necessary to inform new practices and sustain change. This shortfall was addressed, in part, by a new Outdoor Educator role (OE) introduced into focus group discussions at the end of research Phase A. This new role, originally designed to lead change in outdoor nature-related practices, was investigated as part of research Phase B. This second phase of the study also explores guidance from the researcher as mentor to the OE role, and challenges in the role’s continuance including relinquishment of entrenched practices, leadership approaches, and willingness to go beyond what existed to possibilities envisioned by the CPAR collective. The findings indicated the effectiveness of a collective approach to changing outdoor nature experiences for very young children. The outcomes also suggested an egalitarian approach to leadership and a holistic commitment to ongoing practice transformation is essential if children’s connections to nature are to be authentically established.

My only hope is in what you read you may find something that invigorates your mind, enriches your heart, and nourishes your soul (J. Kinley)

Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Fields of Research (FoR) 2020: 390102 Curriculum and pedagogy theory and development
390302 Early childhood education
390307 Teacher education and professional development of educators
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2008: 930201 Pedagogy
930202 Teacher and Instructor Development
939902 Education and Training Theory and Methodology
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
Description: Please contact if you require access to this thesis for the purpose of research or study.
Appears in Collections:School of Education
Thesis Doctoral

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