Sustainability and Regeneration

Hello and welcome to this sustainability and regeneration blog. This blog is the first in a series of discussion prompts to engage schools and nurseries in Tayside (and beyond) in conversation about what it means to be a teacher or educator at the current time where climate change is a dominant influence on our planet, not to mention an existential threat! The starting point for my part in this discussion is the Principles, Reflections and Practices that were generated from my research in 2016 where 35 educators, artists, community sustainability educators and academics from five countries contributed their expertise about education for sustainability. The Econnection in Early Childhood Education-Synergies in Inquiry Arts Pedagogies and Experiential Nature Education report was the outcome and contains eight items in each of Principles, Reflections and Practices (See pages 13-15). The intention is to highlight one of them in each blog and to unpack it in relation to theory and practice. The report in which these Principles, Reflections and Practices is available using the link above or from the publications section of this website.

The format will be to articulate the principle, provide a brief description as it appears in the report, followed by a brief discussion of theory and practice related to it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the topics raised in each blog and about the practice you think is important in working with the children and young people in your setting.

This first blog begins with Principle 1:

We are part of and made of the same materials as the earth and all the elements of the natural world – our bodies are biophilic in nature.

Brief description of the principle in the IAPENE report:

Human beings are part of the earth and evolved from the earth. We are part of nature and nature is part of us. We all breathe the same air and require food to survive.

Preschool child playing with a range of natural materials

Theoretical considerations:

E. O Wilson (1984) used the term biophilia to support his idea that we are attracted to the natural world due to our biophilic relationship to it. While his description of it was used, in part, to explain our desire to spend time in the natural world, the consideration of biophilia has become more poignant. The research trajectory over the past 20 years has included an emphasis on place-based sustainability awareness and education (Sobel, 1996; Sobel, 2005) and post humanist theorisations of childhood (Malone, Tesar & Arndt, 2020). Malone et al. (2020) discuss ideas such as being kin with other than human beings or elements of our world, while Widdop Quinton et. al (2020) discuss our resonance with the natural world and recognition of deep time in the entangled evolution of planetary, human and more than human existence. My take on our inherent relationship to the earth and our environment is what I call Econnection. Eco, as in ecology and nnection as in connection (Ward, 2017). Econnection is:

A state of being where one feels themselves part of nature, ecologically, ethically and culturally. The natural world is perceived through all the senses as creative melding of embodiment, affective intensities and consciousness on a temporal continuum within which all actors are engaged in mutual flourishing (Ward, 2022).’

The basis for these theoretical explorations is that we are part of and intrinsic to the evolution of the earth and made of the same material components. The existential threat to our planet therefore is an existential threat to us.

Children’s garden in development at Evergreen Brickworks

Practice implications:

The discussion above raises questions: as educators in a climate change world, what is our role? How are we acting in our professional roles to promote the awareness of ourselves as beings that are intrinsic to and in relationship with the human and non human world? What is the benefit of such an educational focus and how do we enact it? How does the neo-liberal agenda underpinning education support recognition of our decentred position in the challenging discourse around ecojustice, distribution of resources and wealth. What do we, as educators, do to support the children and young people with whom we work to meet these challenges.

There are no easy answers to these questions but the conversation about the role of education in our changing world is needed now more than ever. Your contributions to the discussion are a vital part in this process.

Art student using clay to create textures inspired by nature


Malone, K., Tesar, M. and Arndt, S. (eds.) (2020) Theorising Posthuman Childhood Studies.

Sobel, D. (1996) Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart of Nature Education. Great Barrington MA: The Orion Society.

Sobel, D. (2005) Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities. Great Barring MA: The Orion Society.

Ward, K. (2017) Econnection in Early Childhood Education: Synergies in Inquiry Arts Pedagogies and Experiential Nature Education. . Sydney, Australia: University, W. S.

Ward, K. (2022) ‘Possibilities of Educational Becoming(s)’, Scottish Educational Research Association Conference: Reconnecting educational research, policy, and practice. Ayr, Scotland.

Widdop Quinton, H., Ward, K., Ahern, M. and Carapeto, T. (2020) ‘Resonances: Tuning into the echoes of the ecological collective’, Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 36(2), pp. 169-188.

Wilson, E., O. (1984) Biophilia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

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