Innovative Approaches to Early Childhood Education for Sustainability case studies from the field

Robert Barratt, Elisabeth Barratt Hacking, Pat Black

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section

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This chapter sets out to critique the extent to which the education policy context in England for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) 2012 (0-5 year olds) and the National Curriculum for Key Stage 1 (5-7 year olds) is able to support the opportunity for Early Childhood Education for Sustainability (ECEfS). It is argued that in recent years there has been a growing international focus on the importance of ECEfS and ‘the value of starting early with education for sustainability… even if the practice and research is yet to fully emerge’ (Davis, 2009, p228). In England this trend has led to locally inspired ECEfS projects, but there has not been a sustained national policy commitment to this essential phase and dimension of education. On the contrary, it is argued that the current standards driven agenda and the framing of the natural world by a ‘readiness for school’ agenda is undervaluing the importance of children’s access to the natural world and the opportunity to learn and develop a relationship (early values) with their environment through natural play. We define ‘natural play’ as ‘free play’ experience in the natural environment where the environment stimulates the child to think and behave as opposed to ‘structured play’ where children are directed by adults. We consider natural play as the essential foundation for Education for Sustainability (EfS) in the early years. From here, we argue that the ‘standards’ and ’readiness’ agendas leave little room for considering, with children, how to sustain an environment.

The chapter begins by providing a brief overview of the origins of early years education in England and the opportunities this affords for natural play and the education for sustainability. Four case study settings are presented; these illustrate the development of distinctive, innovative and effective ECEfS curricular that provide children with the access and opportunity to engage in, and learn through, a natural world experience. The chapter concludes by proposing ways in which the Early Years curriculum in England could be enhanced to secure the essential educational experiences needed to support children’s natural engagement with matters to do with environmental sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch in Early Childhood Education for Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationInternational perspectives and provocations
EditorsJulie Davis, Sue Elliot
Place of PublicationAbingdon UK
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781315767499
ISBN (Print)978-0-415-85448-1, 978-0-415-85449-8
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2014


  • early childhood education, education for sustainability, environmental education, research, international early childhood education


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