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International Journal of Early Childhood

, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 303–319 | Cite as

Children Environmental Identity Development in an Alaska Native Rural Context

  • Carie Green
Original Article

Abstract

Scholarship in Early Childhood Education for Sustainability (ECEfS) continues to advocate for the incorporation of Indigenous ways of knowing and children’s agency in research and practice. This study contributes to the literature by examining how young children from an Alaskan rural setting make meaning of and interact with nature. Informed by a participatory and phenomenological framework, this study included 5-to-7-year-old Alaska Native children. Data were collected through Sensory Tours (wearable cameras) where children freely explored their environment with an adult and a peer. Interpreted through Environmental Identity Development theory, findings revealed children had a strong sense of Trust in Nature, uniquely informed by their cultural and subsistence lifestyle. Such trust prompted children to gain a sense of Spatial Autonomy through exploration and establishing connections with water, plants, and animals. Children tasted and touched, experimented and discovered, learning about features of the local ecology and their shared role in it, which, in turn, heightened their sense of Environmental Competency. Children’s demonstrated competencies promote engagement in a subsistence-based lifestyle. Harvesting food from the wilderness is an important sustainable practice in a rural isolated settings and, thus, important to consider in ongoing dialogue on ECEfS.

Keywords

Early Childhood Education for Sustainability Indigenous Environmental identity Phenomenology Child agency 

Résumé

Les études sur l’éducation au développement durable en petite enfance (EDDPE) continuent de plaider en faveur de l’incorporation des façons indigènes d’apprendre et de la capacité d’agir des enfants dans la recherche et la pratique. Cette étude contribue à la documentation en examinant comment de jeunes enfants d’un milieu rural de l’Alaska donnent un sens à la nature et interagissent avec elle. S’appuyant sur un cadre de travail participatif et phénoménologique, cette étude a fait appel à des enfants indigènes de l’Alaska, de 5 à 7 ans. Les données ont été recueillies au moyen de parcours sensoriels (Sensory Tours, avec caméras portables) où les enfants explorent librement leur environnement avec un adulte et un pair. Les résultats, interprétés à travers la théorie du développement de l’identité environnementale (Environmental Identity Development, EID), révèlent que les enfants ont un solide sens de confiance dans la nature, reposant uniquement sur leur mode de vie culturel de subsistance. Une telle confiance incite les enfants à développer un sens de l’autonomie spatiale à travers l’exploration et la création de liens avec l’eau, les plantes et les animaux. Les enfants goûtent et touchent, expérimentent et découvrent; ils apprennent les caractéristiques de l’écologie locale et le rôle qu’ils y partagent, ce qui en retour rehausse leur sens de compétence environnementale. Les compétences démontrées par les enfants promeuvent l’engagement dans un mode de vie basé sur la subsistance. La cueillette de nourriture dans la nature sauvage est une importante pratique durable dans les milieux ruraux isolés, importante à prendre en compte dans le dialogue en cours sur l’EDDPE.

Resumen

El fondo de Becas de Educación en Sostenibilidad en la Primera Infancia (ESPI) mantiene su apoyo para la incorporación de la sabiduría indígena y la representación de niños en la investigación y la práctica. Este trabajo de investigación estudia la forma en que los niños pequeños de una comunidad rural de Alaska le dan sentido a la naturaleza e interactúan con ella. Dentro de un marco participativo y fenomenológico, este estudio incluyó a niños indígenas de Alaska de 5 a 7 años de edad. Se recopiló información a través de excursiones sensoriales (con cámaras corporales) en las que los niños podían explorar libremente el ambiente que los rodeaba, acompañados por un adulto y otro niño de su edad. Apoyado en la teoría de Desarrollo de Identidad Ambiental (DIA), los hallazgos revelaron que los niños tenían un gran sentido de Confianza en la naturaleza, que se basaba especialmente en su cultura y en su estilo de vida de subsistencia. Dicha confianza los impulsaba a adquirir un sentido de Autonomía Espacial a través de la exploración y la creación de vínculos con el agua, las plantas y los animales. Los niños probaban y tocaban, experimentaban y descubrían, aprendiendo así las características de la ecología local y su propio rol como parte de la misma, lo que a su vez aumentaba su sentido de Competencia Ambiental. Los conocimientos que los niños expresan promueven el compromiso con un estilo de vida basado en la subsistencia. La cosecha de alimentos de fuentes salvajes es una práctica sostenible importante en un medio rural aislado, que es a su vez importante para tener en cuenta en el diálogo continuo sobre ESPI.

Notes

Acknowledgements

Funding was provided by Alaska EPSCoR NSF (Grant No. OIA-1208927). Special thanks to Robin Child, Bethany Fernstrom, John Henry Jr., teachers, families, and children for participating in this project.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA

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