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Environmental and Sustainability Education in Early Childhood: A Systematic Search and Review of the Literature
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. Högskolan Dalarna.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4937-8413
2015 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Although environmental and sustainability education in early years is on the rise, it has been noted that the field is slow to engage in sustainability issues (Davis, 2005, 2009; Elliott & Davis, 2009; Pramling Samuelsson, 2011). Evidence from a number of longitudinal studies indicates that high quality preschool education has positive effects on children’s well-being, health, intellectual and social behavioral development (Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2008; The Abecedarian Project, 2012). Researchers also stress that environmental and sustainability issues should feature in early childhood education, because children develop their attitudes, conceptions, behavioral and intellectual potential during this time (Cutter-Mackenzie & Edwards, 2013; Flogaitis et al., 2005; Siraj-Blatchford, 2009). However, questions such as in what way and how sustainability challenges should be integrated in early childhood education have received little attention (Hagglund & Samuelsson, 2009).

Defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (Brundtland, 1987, p. 43), the concept of sustainability was introduced in the end of the 1980's as a critical global issue. Later on, the United Nations General Assembly declared the Decade of Education for Sustainability (2005-2014) for promoting education for sustainability within all areas of education and learning (UNESCO, 2005). As the Decade recently came to an end, a literature review would be useful to provide an overview of what has been done academically in the field of early childhood education since the concept of sustainability was introduced. A review can also help to avoid ‘re-inventing the wheel’ and to build on the findings of other studies (Badger et al., 2000). Evidence from empirical studies can assist in improving educational practices and to facilitate evidence-based policy-making (Broekkamp & van Hout-Wolters, 2007).

The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of the current empirical evidence in the field of environmental and sustainability education in early childhood, which is based on information provided by preschool children, their parents or teachers. Its objectives have been:

  • to identify articles reporting empirical studies about early childhood education concerning environmental or sustainability issues, which are based on data provided by preschool children, their parents or teachers, and are published between 1987 and 2015;
  • to synthesize the key findings; and
  • to identify research needs suggested in the studies.

Early childhood refers to a period until eight years of age (Britto, Yoshikawa, & Boller, 2011). Preschools refer to any type of child institutional care, for example, a day-care center, a nursery or a kindergarten, where children are taken care of while their guardians work. They include government, non-government, private, international and combined-type of institutions for young children. This review does not address any similarities or differences in conceptions of environmental and sustainability education. It does not attempt to define any terms, rather, it reports what has been done in both fields regarding early childhood education.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used Although some elements of a systematic review were followed, variations in objective, study design and outcome of the included studies do not allow for a meaningful evaluation of the quality of the evidence. The methodology included establishing inclusion and exclusion criteria, identifying and grouping relevant search terms, searching articles in selected databases, screening and selecting articles, and extracting data according to preselected categories. A priori inclusion and exclusion criteria were developed for the review. The inclusion criteria included peer-reviewed journal articles reporting empirical studies published 1987 or later. The author(s) of the articles should explicitly connect early childhood education to the concept of environmental or sustainability education. Articles were searched in three databases on 31 January 2015 by combining two groups of search terms. The first group of search terms was concerned with preschool settings and the second group was concerned with environmental and sustainability education. Within each group search terms were combined by the Boolean operator OR, and the two groups of search terms were combined using the Boolean operator AND. A hit was generated if any one term in the first group and any one term in the second group both appeared in the topic or abstract of an article. Searches were performed in the following databases: Academic Search Elite, ERIC, and GreenFILE. The databases were chosen considering their coverage of educational resources related to environmental and sustainability issues. No restrictions in language or geographical areas were set and no special search limiters were chosen. American and British spelling differences were noted and both were searched for. The total number of hits in the three databases was 217. Titles and abstracts of these primary records were screened. Duplicates and articles not meeting the inclusion criteria or meeting the exclusion criteria were omitted. Based on a review of titles, abstracts and elimination of duplicates, 157 articles were excluded. Sixty articles were selected for full text review. Eligible articles will be selected for inclusion. Using a form comprising pre-determined categories, data will be extracted from the selected articles. In terms of methodological limitations, a systematic search and review may have gaps in the searching procedure (Borg et al., 2014). Some relevant studies may have been excluded if they were not on electronic databases. Therefore, traditional methods of hand searching, information from individuals and searching references will be carried out. Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings The study is in progress and will be completed by the end of May. Data categories include: Author, Year, Objective, Study design, Country, Participants, Theoretical framework, Aspects of sustainability (environmental, social or economic), Findings and Recommendations. The categories will be collapsed into broader areas while summarizing the data. A brief summary on what has been done in the field of early childhood education since the concept of sustainability was introduced in 1987 will be provided, as well as an outline of identified research needs. This review is intended to provide researchers and practitioners with an overview of the current evidence base and research needs to offer support and guidance for future practices, strategies, policies and priorities.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
Pedagogical Work
Research subject
educational work
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-119969OAI: diva2:925875
ECER 2015, Budapest Education and Transition - Contributions from Educational Research
Available from: 2016-05-03 Created: 2016-05-03 Last updated: 2016-09-06

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