Exploring the resistance: An Australian perspective on educating for sustainability in early childhood

  • Sue ElliottEmail author
  • Julie DavisEmail author


Climate change and sustainability are issues of global significance. While other education sectors have implemented education for sustainability for many years, the early childhood sector has been slow to take up this challenge. This position paper poses the question: Why has this sector been so slow to engage with sustainability? Explanations are proposed based on a review of research literature and the authors’ long engagement in seeking to bring early childhood education and education for sustainability together. The imperative is for the early childhood sector to engage in education for sustainability without delay and to ‘get active’ for a sustainable future.


Sustainability early childhood education education for sustainability environmental education 


Les changements climatiques et le développement durable sont chargés d’une signification globale. Alors que d’autres secteurs de l’éducation se sont impliqués dans l’éducation au développement durable depuis plusieurs années, celui réservé à la petite enfance a tardé à relever le défi. La question que pose cet article est: Pourquoi ce secteur a pris tant de temps à s’engager vis-à-vis le développement durable? Des explications sont proposées sur la base d’une revue de la recherche et de l’engagement des auteurs qui tentent de réunir l’éducation de la petite enfance et l’éducation pour le développement durable. Il est impératif que le secteur de la petite enfance s’engage dans l’éducation pour le développement durable sans délai et qu’il demeure alerte dans le futur.


El cambio climático y la sustentabilidad son cuestiones de importancia global. Mientras que otros sectores educativos han implementado la educación para la sustentabilidad hace muchos años, el sector de la temprana infancia ha sido lento en asumir este desafio. Este trabajo plantea la siguiente cuestión: ¿Por qué este sector sido tan lento para comprometerse con la sustentabilidad? Las explicaciones que se proponen han sido basadas en un estudio de investigación literaria y el largo compromiso del autor buscando unir la educación de la temprana infancia con la educación para la sustentabilidad. El imperativo es que el sector de la temprana infancia se comprometa con la educación para la sustentabilidad sin más demora y se plantee activamente por un futuro sustentable.


  1. Arthur, L., Beecher, B., Death, E., Dockett, S. & Farmer, S. (2008).Programming and Planning in Early Childhood Settings. Southbank Victoria: Thomson.Google Scholar
  2. Australian Broadcasting Corporation ‘Now or never to save the planet: UN’ ABC News Online. Retrieved 1/1/2009 from Scholar
  3. Australian National Commission for UNESCO. (2005). Report of a National Symposium ACT: Australian National Commission for UNESCO.Google Scholar
  4. Berndt, T. J. (1997). (Ed.)Child Development, 2nd ed. Dubuque USA: Brown and Benchmark.Google Scholar
  5. Berry, T. (1988).The Dream of the Earth. San Francisco USA: Sierra Club Books.Google Scholar
  6. Cannella, G. (1997).Deconstructing Early Childhood Education: Social Justice and Revolution. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.Google Scholar
  7. Capra, F. (2005).‘Development and Sustainability’ Centre for Ecoliteracy. Retrieved 20/09/06 from http://www.ecoliteracy.orgGoogle Scholar
  8. Capra, F. (1999).‘Ecoliteracy: The Challenge for Education in the Next Century’ Centre for Ecoliteracy. Retrieved 20/09/06 from http://www.ecoliteracy.orgGoogle Scholar
  9. Chawla, L. (2006). ‘Learning to love the natural world enough to protect it’.Barn 2, 57–78.Google Scholar
  10. Commonwealth Government of Australia. (2008).Garnaut Climate Change Review. Canberra: Commonwealth Government of Australia.Google Scholar
  11. Commonwealth of Australia Department of Environment and Heritage. (2005).Education for a Sustainable Future: A National Environmental Education Statement for Schools. Carlton: Curriculum Corporation.Google Scholar
  12. Dahlberg, G. Moss, P. & Pence, A. (1999).Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care: Postmodern Perspectives. London: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  13. Dau, E. (2001) (Ed.)The Anti-bias Approach in Early Childhood. Pearson: Sydney.Google Scholar
  14. Davis, J. (forthcoming). ‘Revealing the research ‘hole’ of early childhood education for sustainability: A preliminary survey of the literature’. Environmental Education Research.Google Scholar
  15. Davis, J. (2007).‘Climate change and its impact on young children’ Early Childhood Australia. Retrieved 25/02/08 from Scholar
  16. Davis, J. (1998). Young children, environmental education and the future.Early Childhood Education Journal, 26(2), 117–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Davis, J. Gibson, M. Pratt, R. Eglington, A. & Rowntree, N. (2005). Creating a culture of sustainability: From project to integrated education for sustainability at Campus Kindergarten. In W.L. Filho, (Ed.),The International Handbook of Sustainability Research (563–594). Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  18. Davis, J. & Elliott, S. (2003).Early Childhood Environmental Education: Making It Mainstream. Canberra: Early Childhood Australia.Google Scholar
  19. Edwards, C. Gandini, L. & Foreman, G. (1998) (Eds.)The One Hundred Languages of Children. Norwood NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  20. Elliott, S. (in press) Essential not optional: Education for sustainability in early childhood centres. Childcare Information Exchange.Google Scholar
  21. Elliott, S. (2006). ‘Beyond patches of green: a turning point in early childhood environmental education’. Paper presented at the NZAEE Turning Points in Environmental Education Conference, Auckland, New Zealand.Google Scholar
  22. Elliott, S. (2008) (Ed.)The Outdoor Playspace: Naturally. Sydney, Australia: Pademelon Press.Google Scholar
  23. Freire, P. (1972).Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth: PenguinGoogle Scholar
  24. Furedi, F. (2001). ‘Making Sense of Parental Paranoia’, Retrieved 02/11/05 from Scholar
  25. Gill, T. (2007).No Fear: Growing up in a Risk Averse Society. United Kingdom: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.Google Scholar
  26. Gore, A. (2006).An Inconvenient Truth (DVD). USA: Paramount Classics.Google Scholar
  27. Habermas, J. (1971).Knowledge and human interests. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  28. Henderson, K. & Tilbury, D. (2004).Whole-School Approaches to Sustainability: An international review of whole school sustainability programs. Report prepared by ARIES for the Department of Environment and Heritage, Australian Government.Google Scholar
  29. Kahn, P. H. & Kellert, S. R. (2002).Children and Nature. Massachusetts, USA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  30. Lester, S. & Maudsley, M. (2006).‘Play Naturally A review of children’s natural play’, National Children’s Bureau UK. Retrieved 12/06/07 from Scholar
  31. Louv, R. (2005).The Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder: Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books.Google Scholar
  32. Mac Naughton, G. (2003).Shaping Early Childhood. Maidenhead England: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Mac Naughton, G. (2000).Rethinking Gender in Early Childhood Education. Crow’s Nest Australia: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  34. Malone K. (2008).Every Experience Matters. London: UK Department of Children, School and Families.Google Scholar
  35. Meadows, D., Meadows, D. & Randers, J. (1992).Beyond the limits: Confronting global collapse, envisioning a sustainable future. Post Mills, Vt.: Chelsea Green Publishing.Google Scholar
  36. New South Wales Environment Protection Authority. (2003).Patches of Green: A Review of Early Childhood Environmental Education. Sydney: NSW EPA.Google Scholar
  37. Ornstein, R. & Ehrlich, P. (2001). ‘New World New Mind’. Retrieved 13/10/06 from Scholar
  38. Orr, D. (1992).Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  39. Palmer, S. (2006).Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging our Children and What we can do about it. London: Orion Books.Google Scholar
  40. Palmer, J. & Suggate, J. (2004). The development of children’s understanding of distant places and environmental issues: Report of a UK longitudinal study of the development of ideas between the ages of 4 and 10 years.Research Papers in Education, 19(2), 205–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rivkin, M. (1998). Happy Play in Grassy Places: The importance of the outdoor environment in Dewey’s educational ideal.Early Childhood Education Journal.25(3), 199–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sobel, D. (1996).Beyond Ecophobia. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society.Google Scholar
  43. Stern, N. (2006).Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. London. British Government.Google Scholar
  44. Stevenson, R. B. (2007). Schooling and environmental education: contradictions in purpose and practice.Environmental Education Research, 13(2), 139–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. UNESCO. (2008).Early childhood and its contribution to a sustainable society. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  46. United Nations Environment Program (2007) Global Environment Outlook 4. Available from: Scholar
  47. UNESCO. (2005). Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005–2014 Draft International Implementation Scheme. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  48. UNESCO. (1978).The Final report: International Conference on Environmental Education. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  49. Vaealiki, S. & Mackey, G. (2008). ‘Ripples of action: Strengthening environmental competency in an early childhood centre’ NZCER Early Childhood Folio No 12 Wellington: NZCER.Google Scholar
  50. Wagner, J. (1993). Ignorance in Educational Research: Or how can you not know that?Educational Researcher, 22(5), 15–23.Google Scholar
  51. Wilson, R. (2008).Nature and Young Children Encouraging Creative Play and Learning in Natural Environments. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  52. Woodhead, M. (2006). ‘Changing perspectives on early childhood: Theory, research and policy’. Paper commissioned for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2007, Strong foundations: Early childhood care and education.Google Scholar
  53. Young, T. (2007). ‘Why do young children need to know about climate change?’ Early Childhood Australia. Retrieved 25/02/08 from Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Dordrecht 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Portfolio of Design and Social Context School of EducationRMITBundooraAustralia
  2. 2.School of Early Childhood Kelvin Grove CampusQUTBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations