Principle 4: Belonging, wellbeing and education for climate change

IAPENE Pedagogical Tool Principle: 4
There is a psychological effect that relates to our sense of being and belonging when engaged in the natural world.

Example from IAPENE Pedagogical Tool
Frequent experience of a place, e.g. a landscape or green space, can bring a sense of belonging, assist in restoring mental faculties and engender a feeling of well-being.

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There are a number of theories that reflect human connection/engagement with the natural world in a manner that affects our psychological state of mind and behaviour. E. O. Wilson’s Biophilia (1984) highlights the biophilic or physiological connection we share with the planet because we are all made of the same elements as our natural world which generates a feeling of attraction and belonging. Attention restoration theory (Kaplan, 1995) demonstrates that time spent in green spaces restores our ability to focus and provides a calming effect. Ecopsychology (Roszak, 2001) contends that time spent in the natural world can have a restorative and calming affect and impacts our behaviour. This theory builds on Biohpilia and the sense of connection we feel with the natural world highlighting the sense of psychological ease that spending time in nature can engender This connection or being with the planet is also reflected in more recent theories such as post humanist (Ward, 2017a), relational materialism (Hultman & Lenz Taguchi, 2010) and common world (Taylor, 2017) theories.

While there is clear historical trajectory here it is the more recent theories related to post humanism, and relational materialism that decentre the human, and recognise the material commonality, the interspecies relationships and the interdependence between them and planetary ecosystems. This has never been more relevant than it is today in the current climate crisis where we see daily reports of ecosystems under threat and the way in which degradation of these systems has a cascading effect on subsidiary systems and on humans. The recent Covid-19 pandemic highlighted our need for developing sustainable systems for living/working with the planet while the recent COP 27 Climate and COP 15 Diversity conferences make it very clear we are on a precipice unless we work towards regenerative living now.

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So what does this mean for us as educators? How can we bring a little more awareness of our intimate interrelationship with the human and non-human worlds into every class we have with our students so that thinking and behaviour is gradually adapted and oriented toward regenerative living? It could be that school gardens or excursions into green spaces in the community are the means through which you highlight our earth/human beingness? I describe in Singing in the Forest (Ward, 2017b) the way in which I used to tell daily stories in my kindergarten about the local flora and fauna, often after being on walks with the children in the local forests. These stories brought the animals and insects to life in an ecomorphic way so the children could sense and feel what it might be like to be an eagle, a wallaby, a frog or a humpback whale, through story, song, movement and visual arts. While the stories gave voice to the animals in focus, the emphasis was on what it might be like to be them, in their habitat with their challenges. This provided a sense of familiarity and ease with the natural world, predisposing the children to see it as friend rather than as an alien or frightening environment.

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Outdoor education in early childhood and primary school has become a focus over the last 10 years (Mann, Gray, Truong, Brymer, Passy, Ho, Sahlberg, Ward, Bentsen, Curry & Cowper, 2022) for good reason. As teachers and educators, Stirling (2017) asserts that we have a responsibility to highlight our interdependence and kinship with all species on the planet in all learning experiences to challenge the very purpose of education. After all, what is education if we can not apply it to living sustainably and regeneratively on planet earth?

However, many teachers do not have the training, resources or confidence (Ward, Birch, MacDonald, Beresford-Dey, Lakin, Purcell & Searle, 2022) to imbue their educational content with content related to regenerative living, even though young people tell us they want more opportunities for outdoor education, more information about climate change and more opportunities to participate in local amelioration of climate change issues (Ibid). If we are to support children and young people in managing the fear and anxiety they feel about the future (Hickman, Marks, Pihkala, Clayton, Lewandowski, Mahall, Wray, Mellor & Van Susteren, 2021), then we need to work together to share approaches and pedagogies, and to demand recognition of these critical issues, time and resources to support action from our local authorities and governments.


Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R. E., Mahall, E. E., Wray, B., Mellor, C. and Van Susteren, L. (2021) ‘Climate Anxiety in Children and Young People and Their Beliefs about Government Responses to Climate Change: A Global Survey’, The Lancet: Planetary Health, 5(December), pp. e863 – e873. DOI:

Hultman, K. and 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), pp. 525-542. 10.1080/09518398.2010.500628:

Kaplan, S. (1995) ‘The Resorative Benefist of Nature: Towards an Intergrative Framework’, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, pp. 169-182.

Mann, J., Gray, T., Truong, S., Brymer, E., Passy, R., Ho, S., Sahlberg, P., Ward, K., Bentsen, P., Curry, C. and Cowper, R. (2022) ‘Getting Out of the Classroom and Into Nature: A Systematic Review of Nature-Speciic Outdoor Learning on School Children’sLearning and Development’, Frontiers. Public Health, 10:877058. 10.3389/fpubh.2022.877058:

Roszak, T. (2001) The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopyschology. 2nd Ed edn. Grand Rapids MI: Phanes Press Inc.

Stirling, S. (2017) ‘Assuming the Future: Repurposing Education in a Volatile Age’, in Jickling, B. and Stirling, S. (eds.) Post Sustainability and Environmental Education: Remaking Education for the Future.  Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature,  pp. 31-39.

Taylor, A. (2017) ‘Romancing or Reconfiguring nature? Towards Common Worlding Pedagogies ‘, in Malone, K., Gray, T. and Truong. (eds.) Reimagining Sustainability in Precarious Times Melbourne: Springer.

Ward, K. (2017a) ‘Beyond Sustainability – Visions of Post-humanist E-connection in Early Childhood Education’, in Malone, K., Gray, T. and Truong. (eds.) Reimagining Sustainability in Precarious Times Melbourne: Springer.

Ward, K. (2017b) ‘Singing in the Forest: Outdoor Education as Early Childhood Curriculum’, in Gray, T. and Mitten, D. (eds.) The Palgrave International Handbook of Women and Outdoor Learning.  London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ward, K., Birch, R., MacDonald, T., Beresford-Dey, M., Lakin, L., Purcell, M. and Searle, B. (2022) Learning for Sustainability: Young People and Practitioner Perspectives. Edinburgh: Scottish Government Research and Analytical Division.

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

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