Awe, Wonder, Fear and Fascination

Welcome to the conversation about sustainability education in early years and school education. The principle under discussion is number 3 from the IAPENE pedagogical tool. Your contributions to the discussion are welcome. Please click on the comment button below

Principle 3:Experiences in the natural world affect us emotionally and the body and the senses mediate this affect.

This principle recognises that we experience a range of emotions in response to our physical and cognitive experiences of the natural world, including awe and wonder, fascination, curiosity and fear. Nurturing children’s biophilia (Wilson, 1984) or sense of connection to nature is critical if we wish to engage them in action for combating climate change. White and Stoecklin (2008) contend that we need to teach children to love the world before we ask them to save it. Chawla and colleagues highlight the value of green schoolyards as stress amelioration and Schute and Torquati’s (2017) research points toward the value of time in green spaces for primary school children to improve executive function.

Photo by Stephen Andrews on

If we consider a post humanist perspective (Malone et. al, 2019), young children encounter the natural world in a state of ‘being with’ the other than human world and where living beings are kin or family – such is the child’s emotional connection. So what does it mean to actively engage in pedagogies to support children’s connection with nature and their understanding of climate change? We know that children feel fear and anxiety about climate change (Hickman et. al. 2021) and that being active in their communities in combating climate change, relative to their level of ability and understanding, assists children in dealing with eco-anxiety. So how do we as teachers and educators maximise children’s opportunities to be engaged in nature and agential in contributing to the amelioration of climate change?

As teachers we need to be aware that children with limited experiences in the colours, textures, smells, and movement in the natural world can experience fearful emotions due to the lack of familiarity (Torquati et. al, 2010). Conversely, children can also be fascinated by the shapes and movement of the smallest of insects or animals which can play out as child initiated story threads or or play topics. Spending time outdoors and using natural resources is a starting point for young children to allow them to become familiar with textures, smells, visual colours and distances and sensations of air movement. Observing preverbal children’s interaction with nature helps to identify what fascinates them and the meaning they are making from the experience and provides clues about what to include in our program for them.

Gardening is a very practical way of working with children so they understand where their food comes from and the processes of growth. Story telling is also an effective way of highlighting the perspectives of the other than human world. I once had a child in my kindergarten tell news about a humpback whale they had seen during their holiday at the beach. This raised so much interest that we embarked upon a series of story adventures that lasted for a whole school term and covered the migration of the humpback whales from the Antarctic to Hervey Bay in Queensland Australia, where they went for breeding. The culmination of this series of stories was an excursion to Byron Bay where we embarked upon three dive boats to see if we could find any whales (who were in fact migrating south after breeding at that time). We came across a mother and her baby who leaped and played in front of us for half an hour! The emotions during this whale/child interaction were intense with every child (and adult) in a state of awe and delight.

Engaging primary school children in outdoor walks and telling stories from the local community about the flora and fauna may help to deepen their sense of place and belonging. Providing opportunities for children to contribute to discussion and problem solving for environmental issues in the local community will help with providing a sense of agency which research shows helps to mitigate eco anxiety. Finding ways to imbue all areas of the curriculum with content about the natural world and local environment will assist with understanding that everything we do on the planet is related to sustainability and climate change.

Primary school children in Tayside and beyond in Scotland, often live in or within relatively easy access to spectacular environments and green spaces. Please share your ideas for working with children to support their emotional connection to the natural world.


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(0), 1-13. doi:

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), e863 -e873. DOI:

Malone, K., Moore, S. J. and Ward, K. (2019) Children’s Bodies, Sensing Ecologically: A study of Pre-language Children’s Ecological Encounters. Centre for Educational Research: Research, Western Sydney University.

Schutte, A. R., Torquati, J. C. & Beattie, H. L. (2017). Impact of Urban Nature on Executive Functioning in Early and Middle Childhood. Environment and Behavior, 49(1), 3-30.

Torquati, J. Gabriel, M. M., Jones-Brand, J. & Leeper-Miller, J. (2010). Environmental Education: A Natural Way to Nurture Children’s Development and Learning. Young Children, November, 98-105.

White, R. & Stoecklin, L. (2008). Nurturing Children’s Biophilia: Developmentally Appropriate Environmental Education for Young Children. Retrieved 27/5/2010, 2010, from

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

Posted in IAPENE Blogs | Leave a comment

Sensing the World

Welcome to the conversation about sustainability education in early years and school education. The principle under discussion is number 2 from the IAPENE pedagogical tool. Your contributions to the discussion are welcome. Please click on the comment button below.

Principle 2: Engagement with the natural world is perceived through the body and the senses, and mental faculties.

The example provided in the IAPNE tool says that “we see, hear, taste, feel and smell at a physical level. We also make meaning from these representations of nature.” Children at school or early years settings have opportunities throughout the day to be out of doors. When it comes to incorporating content about sustainability and the natural world into the classroom, it is useful to observe what the children notice, touch, respond to or engage with outside. This will of course vary depending on the environment in which they have to explore. The discussion below looks at some of the theory and practice implications for working with the children perceptions, the way in which they interpret and represent their understandings. and how this may impact on our pedagogy.

Photograph by Niki Buchan

Theoretical perspectives about recognising our embodiment in nature are increasingly common across disciplines such as human geography, education, dance and drama and even science communication. The common thread is the experience of the outdoor environment through the senses. This being in and experiencing the outdoors is always in relationship with what is there in the other than human world. This includes animals, plants, insects and weather conditions such as wind, sun, rain etc… Pauliina Rautio (2017) describes a way of thinking about these relationships by saying that it is about realizing that the relation is always already there, and as much influenced by behaviour and existence of other co-existing species as it is by our actions. This perspective was explored in Malone, Moore and Ward’s (2019) research which focused on young children who were preverbal to investigate their sensorial encounters with the natural world through what we called “ecological sensing”.

The three young children with whom we worked engaged in range of regular outdoor encounters where they felt comfortable to explore and where the researchers deliberately avoided prompting, suggesting or guiding but were observers in the background as they recorded and attempted to be attuned to the children’s encounters.

Practice: Educators involved in the IAPENE research reflected on Principle 2 identifying that it applied most strongly to the embodied and affective connections to the natural world. The challenge for them was to use this principle to prompt their own observations of the children’s engagement, to use this as a conversation starter and to ensure there were opportunities for them to engage the children further in the experiences for which they showed an interest or preference.

This pedagogical practice of allowing young children to ‘be with the world’ (Rautio, 2017) can take many forms and be prompted through a range of resources. Time spent outdoors in environments with diverse and rich natural elements is important to accustom young children to the textures of nature and with recognition for living beings that are non human such as plants, animals and insects (Ward, 2018).

For children who live in hyper urban environments, this encounter with different textures, smells, shapes and colours and movement may be unfamiliar and take some time to become accustomed to. Taking the children out for walks to green space and keeping a range of natural materials for free play in the classroom can support the sensory engagement. Creating descriptive rich stories about local flora and fauna, role playing or dramatizing ‘being frog’ (Ward, 2018) are also ways of supporting sensorial and affective engagement.

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. doi: 10.1080/09518398.2010.500628

Malone, K., Moore, S.J, and Ward, K. (2019), Children’s Bodies Sensing Ecologically: a study of pre-language children’s ecological encounters, Centre for Educational Research, Western Sydney University. 33% Contribution

Rautio, P. (2017). “A Super Wild Story”: Shared Human–Pigeon Lives and the Questions They Beg. Qualitative Inquiry, 23(9), 722–731.

Ward, K. (2017). Beyond Sustainability – New Visions for Human Econnection in Early Childhood Education. In K. Malone, S. Truong, & T. Gray (Eds.), Reimagining Sustainability in Precarious Times, (pp. 129- 142). Singapore: Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-981-10-2550-1_9

Ward, K. (2018) What’s in a Dream: Natural elements, risk and loose parts in children’s dream playspace drawings. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood Education, 43(1). pp. 34 – 42. DOI: 10.23965/AJEC.43.1.04

Posted in IAPENE Blogs | Leave a comment

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

Posted in IAPENE Blogs | Leave a comment

Econnection in Early Childhood: Synergies in Inquiry Arts Pedagogies and Experiential Nature Education

Ward, K. 2017 Econnection in Early Childhood Education-Synergies in Inquiry Arts Pedagogies and Experiential Nature Education

 This research report is now available and combines the perspectives from early childhood educators, academics, artists and community sustainability practitioners around the world about their arts-based pedagogies and education for sustainability practice. Their perspectives form a the basis for a pedagogical tool for use in early childhood settings that include a series of Principles, Reflections for Econnection Pedagogies and Practices. This pedagogical tool was trialled in early childhood settings in Sydney Australia and in Lincoln Nebraska. The outcomes of the research highlight the important role of the arts in incorporating sustainability education into the early childhood program.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Bronze Medals in Two Categories for World Wanderer

World Wander, my interactive, bilingual iBook has been awarded Bronze Medals in two categories at the International Elit Book Awards 2017. The categories are: Books for Children Under 7 and Environment/Ecology/Nature. Please tell your friends to check it out today. It’s available on the iBook store.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Brains of tech addicted kids look like they are on drugs

The New York Post article on tech addicted kids is a timely reminder that we need to be mindful of the essential role of relationships and engagement with the material world to support our children’s health and well-being. Kids need to engage with their peers, their families and their teachers to develop nuanced understandings of how the world works and their own place in it. This is not to say that devices like tablets and computers are not useful and/or educational, they can be when used in moderation and with a sense of purpose. However, according the article above, when they are the dominant influence on children’s time, there can be serious psychological, physical and emotional consequences.

The brain imaging and research reported on in the article shows that the brains of children who are addicted to their devices look like those of people who are addicted to drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The pre-frontal cortex, where the executive functions like impulse moderation and decision making, is the area affected. This can severely impact on the child’s capacity to engage in everyday interactions and relationships putting them at a considerable disadvantage in comprehending the ongoing learning processes that are involved in developing and maturing.

Children need time in the outdoors for physical health, emotional and psychological health and even for supporting cognitive development. Better still when this time is shared with friends and/or family members.

Kumara Ward

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

World Wanderer iBook

Today I have launched my first enhanced iBook for children: World Wanderer.Author Kumara Ward. Illustrated by Anne-Maree Althaus.

World Wanderer lived in the land of ice and snow. His story is told through text and voice narration in both English and Mandarin and any combination can be selected through easy access buttons on each page. Original songs are also accessed through their own icon.
Every year, in wintertime, World Wanderer travelled to where the water was warm. On this year’s journey he was the voice of wisdom and experience for a young yearling. He taught him about all the see creatures he would meet and how to listen to the great waves that wash around the world.  This story is filled with adventure, wisdom, discovery and friendship. World Wanderer’s journey will fill your imagination with images and sounds rich and colourful. The text and voice overs in Mandarin and English also make it a perfect bilingual learning story. The great oceans of the world will never seem the same again.
Now available for pre-order. Available 10 January.    Get_it_on_iBooks_Badge_US_1114
P21 Warm Tropical Seas


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment