Singing in the Forest: Outdoor Education as Early Childhood Curriculum

  • Kumara Ward
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Gender and Education book series (GED)


Outdoor pedagogy comes in many forms and with varying underlying purposes. This chapter demonstrates the author’s journey as a primary school educator whose programme was underpinned by belief in the value of outdoor learning. It begins by highlighting her teaching practice with young children at schools in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales (NSW) using a “postmodern emergence” approach to curriculum. Using art-based pedagogies alongside outdoor experiential education, this programme scaffolded children’s developing sense of place/belonging and econnection to the natural world, assisting them to understand the properties, ecosystems, and habitats of the environment. It positions this practice as a legitimate form of outdoor education by invoking a radical feminist definition that includes intra-action with the natural world through relationships with self, the natural environment, and others.


Outdoor learning econnection Nature education Intra-action Arts 


  1. Barad, K. (2003). Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society, 28(3), 801–831.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Birrell, C. (2011). Slipping beneath the Kimberley skin. In D. Wright, C. Camden-Pratt, & S. Hill (Eds.), Social ecology: Applying ecological understanding to our lives and our planet. Gloucestershire, UK: Hawthorn Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bourdieu, P. (1990). In other words: Essays towards a reflexive sociology. California, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Buchan, N. (2015). Children in wild nature: A practical guide to nature-based practice. Blairgowrie, Australia: Teaching Solutions.Google Scholar
  5. Caldera Regional Arts Inc. (2015). Caldera art. Retrieved from
  6. Capaldi, C., Raelyne, L., Zelenski, D., & Zelenski, J. (2014). The relationship between nature connectedness and happiness: A meta analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, Article 976. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chawla, L. (2007). Education for strategic environmental behaviour. Environmental Education Research, 13(4), 437–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chawla, L., & Flanders Cushing, D. (2007). Education for strategic environmental behavior. Environmental Education Research, 13(4), 437–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chawla, L., Keena, K., Pevec, I., & Stanley, E. (2014). Green schoolyards as havens from stress and resources for resilience in childhood and adolescence. Health & Place, 28, 1–13. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cohen, M. J. (2000). Nature connected psychology. Greenwich University Journal of Science and Technology, 1(1), 1–5.Google Scholar
  11. Cutter-Mackenzie, A., & Edwards, S. (2013). The next 20 years: Imagining and re-imagining sustainability, environment and education in early childhood education. In S. Elliot, S. Edwards, J. Davis, & A. Cutter-Mackenzie (Eds.), Early childhood Australia’s best of sustainability: Research practice and theory. Deakin West: Early Childhood Australia.Google Scholar
  12. Davis, J. (2010). What is early childhood education for sustainability. In J. M. Davis (Ed.), Young children and environment: Early education for sustainability (pp. 21–42). Sydney, Australia: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Davis, J., & Elliott, S. (2003). Early childhood environmental education: Making it mainstream. Watson, Australia: Early Childhood Australia.Google Scholar
  14. Dolphijn, R., & van der Tuin, I. (2012). New materialism: Interviews and cartographies. Michigan, MI: Open Humanities Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dowdell, K., Gray, T., & Malone, K. (2011). Nature and its influence on children’s outdoor play. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 15(2), 24–35.Google Scholar
  16. Eisner, E. W. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven, CT & London, UK: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Elliot, S. (2003). Early childhood environmental education in Australia: Scope, status and direction. Sydney, Australia: Social Research Series, Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  18. Elliot, S., & Davis, J. (2009). Exploring the resistance: An Australian perspective on educating for sustainability in early childhood. International Journal of Early Childhood, 41(2), 65–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elliot, S., Edwards, S., Davis, J., & Cutter-Mackenzie, A. (Eds.). (2013). Early childhood Australia’s best of sustainability: Research, practice and theory. Deakin West, Australia: Early Childhood Australia.Google Scholar
  20. Gambino, A., Davis, J., & Rowntree, N. (2009). Young children learning for the environment: Researching a forest adventure. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 25, 83–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gomes, M. E., & Kanner, A. D. (1995). The rape of the well maidens. In T. Roszak, M. E. Gomes, & A. D. Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the mind, healing the Earth (pp. 111–115). San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club.Google Scholar
  22. Gray, T., Allen-Craig, S., & Carpenter, C. (2016). Selective hearing: The unrecognised contribution of women to the outdoor profession. The 19th National Outdoor Education Conference. Innovate—Educate—Celebrate. Sunshine Coast University, Queensland. Retrieved from
  23. Gray, T., & Birrell, C. (2015). Touched by the Earth: A place-based outdoor learning programme incorporating the arts. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning., 15(4), 330–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Helm, J., & Katz, L. (2010). Young investigators: The project approach in the early years (early childhood education series) (2nd ed.). Columbia, SC: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  25. Hill, L. T., Stremmel, A. J., & Fu, V. R. (2005). The teacher as researcher: Asking questions, discovering answers. In L. T. Hill, A. J. Stremmel, & V. R. Fu (Eds.), Teaching as inquiry: Rethinking curriculum in early childhood education (pp. 43–57). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  26. Hultman, K., & Lenz Taguchi, H. (2010). Challenging anthropocentric analysis of visual data: A relational materialist methodological approach to educational research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23(5), 525–542. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Inwood, H., & Jagger, S. (2014). Deeper: Deepening environmental education in pre-service education resource. Toronto, Canada: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and The Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study.Google Scholar
  28. Judson, G., & Egan, K. (2012). Elliot Eisner’s imagination and learning. Journal of Curriculum & Pedagogy, 9(1), 38–41. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kellert, S. (2012). Birthright: People and nature in the modern world. New Haven, CT & London, UK: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Kenney, E. (2011). Cedarsong Nature School. Vashon Island, Australia: Cedarsong Nature School.Google Scholar
  31. Kiewra, C., Reeble, T., & Rosenow, N. (2011). Growing with nature. Lincoln, NE: Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.Google Scholar
  32. Kozak, S., & Elliot, S. (2014). Connecting the dots: Key strategies that transform learning for environmental education, citizenship and sustainability. Canada: Learning for a Sustainable Future.Google Scholar
  33. Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Louv, R. (2006). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NY: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.Google Scholar
  35. Moran, M. J. (2007). Collaborative action research and project work: Promising practices for developing collaborative inquiry among early childhood preservice teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23(4), 418–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Morgan, S. (1987). My place. Fremantle, Australia: Fremantle Arts Centre Press.Google Scholar
  37. Orr, D. W. (2005). Place and pedagogy. In M. Stone & Z. Barlow (Eds.), Ecological literacy: Educating our children for a sustainable world (pp. 85–95). San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.Google Scholar
  38. Plotkin, B. (2008). Nature and the human soul: Cultivating wholeness and community in a fragmented world. Novato, CA: New World Library.Google Scholar
  39. Pyle, R. (2002). Eden in the vacant lot: Special places, species and kids in the neighbourhood of life. In P. Kahn Jr. & S. Kellert (Eds.), Children and nature: Psychological, sociocultural, and evolutionary investigations. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  40. Pyle, R. (2007). Losers, weepers: The extinction of experience and the diminishing baseline. Paper presented at the Come and Play Outside: A Multidisciplinary Symposium, University of Western Australia.Google Scholar
  41. Rogers, K. (2008). How do natural playspaces meet developmental needs and interests? In S. Elliot (Ed.), The outdoor playspace naturally: For children birth to five years. Castle Hill, Australia: Pademelon Press.Google Scholar
  42. San Diego Zoo Global. (2012). Centre for bioinspiration. Retrieved from
  43. Schwenk, T. (1965). Sensitive chaos. Stuttgart, Germany: Rudolf Steiner Press.Google Scholar
  44. Shiva, V. (2005, November). Two myths that keep the world poor. Ode Magazine, 2005, 1–3.Google Scholar
  45. Sobel, D. (2005). Place-based education: Connecting classrooms and communities. Great Barring, MA: The Orion Society.Google Scholar
  46. Somerville, M. (2011). Becoming frog: Learning in place in primary school. In M. Somerville, B. Davies, K. Power, S. Gannon, & P. d. Carteret (Eds.), Place, pedagogy, change (pp. 65–80). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Somerville, M. (2013). Water in a dry land: Place learning through art and story. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  48. Steiner, R. (1965). Education towards freedom. London, UK: Floris Books.Google Scholar
  49. Suzuki, D. (1997). The sacred balance: Rediscovering our place in nature. Vancouver, Canada: Greystone Books.Google Scholar
  50. Tarr, K. (1990). Sunsoarer. Lillian Rock: Author.Google Scholar
  51. Tarr, K. (1993). Hidden in the shade. Lillian Rock, Australia: Daystar School.Google Scholar
  52. Tarr, K. (1999a). Sunsoarer. Worongary, Australia: White Tara Publications.Google Scholar
  53. Tarr, K. (1999b). Where sundancers go. Worongary, Australia: White Tara Publications.Google Scholar
  54. Tarr, K. (2008). Nurturing nature lovers. Rattler, Autumn(85), 16–21.Google Scholar
  55. Taylor, A. (2011). Reconceptualising the ‘nature’ of childhood. Childhood, 18(4), 420–433. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Tooth, R. (2006). Growing a sense of place: Storythread and the transformation of a school. Doctoral dissertation, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.Google Scholar
  57. Tooth, R., & Renshaw, P. (2009). Reflections on pedagogy and place: A journey into learning for sustainability through environmental narrative and deep attentive reflection. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 25, 95–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Torquati, J., Gabriel, M. M., Jones-Brand, J., & Leeper-Miller, J. (2010, November). Environmental education: A natural way to nurture children’s development and learning. Young Children, 65, 98–104.Google Scholar
  59. Truong, S., Gray, T., & Ward, K. (2016). ‘Sowing and growing’ life skills through garden-based learning to re-engage disengaged youth. The 19th National Outdoor Education Conference. Innovate—Educate—Celebrate. Sunshine Coast University, Queensland. Retrieved from
  60. Ward, K. (2011). The living curriculum: A natural wonder: Enhancing the ways in which early childhood educators scaffold young children’s learning about the environment by using self-generated creative arts experiences as a core component of the early childhood program. College of Arts: Social Justice Social Change Research Group, Doctor of Philosophy, 314.Google Scholar
  61. Ward, K. (2013a). Creative arts-based pedagogies in early childhood education for sustainability (EfS): Challenges and possibilities. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 29(2), 165–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Ward, K. (2013b). Enhancing environmental awareness through the arts. In S. Elliot, S. Edwards, J. Davis, & A. Cutter-Mackenzie (Eds.), Early childhood Australia’s best of sustainability: Research, practice and theory (pp. 21–29). Deakin West, Australia: Early Childhood Australia.Google Scholar
  63. Ward, K. (2015). Music and place belong together. The Buli: Orff Schulwerk Association of New South Wales, 43(1), 7–10.Google Scholar
  64. Ward, K. (2016). The natural world as content for interconnection and divergence of pretense and storytelling in children’s play. In S. Douglas & L. Stirling (Eds.), Children’s play, pretence, and story: Studies in culture, context, and autism spectrum disorder. New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  65. Ward, K. (2017). Beyond sustainability—Visions of post-humanist e-connection in early childhood education. In K. Malone, S. Truong, & T. Gray (Eds.), Reimagining sustainability in precarious times (Chap. 9). London, UK: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Warden, C. (2012). Nurture through nature: Working with children under 3 in outdoor environments (2nd ed.). Auctherader, Scotland: Mindstretchers.Google Scholar
  67. White, R. (2004, Updated 23/1/2010). Young children’s relationship with wature: Its importance to children’s development and the Earth’s future. Retrieved from
  68. White, R., & Stoecklin, L. (2008, Updated 9/11/2008). Nurturing children’s biophillia: Developmentally appropriate environmental education for young children. Retrieved from
  69. Wilson, R. (2010). Aesthetics and a sense of wonder. ChildCare Exchange, May/June, 27–27.Google Scholar
  70. Wyver, S., Tranter, P., Naughton, G., Little, H., Sandseter, E., & Bundy, A. (2010). Ten ways to restrict children’s freedom to play: The problem of surplus safety. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 11(3), 263–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kumara Ward
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Educational Research, Western Sydney UniversityPenrithAustralia

Personalised recommendations