My research program concentrates on education for sustainability and the significance of the human/nature connection. Whilst pursuing a number of strands, it investigates ways in which we can support children and young people to live in conscious connection with the natural world so they can think and act innovatively in finding new ways of living sustainably in, and in a state of contented regeneration on, the earth. The strands include (also see below): sensing ecologically with young children and the pedagogical implications of this practice for early childhood educators in providing ecologically healthy, engaging learning environments; curriculum integration in early childhood/primary education between the arts and sustainability education for exploring and interpreting the natural world; psychological flexibility and Goethean science approaches for youth and young people at risk to support ecopsychological health; and community greening/gardening approaches to support wellbeing for all ages but in particular for those in community housing. 

My research has, individually and collaboratively, been supported by a total of AU$250,000 in grant funding, which, relative to opportunity while in leadership and governance roles, is substantial. This information below provides examples of recent and current research as well as plans for future research and collaboration.

Sensing Ecologically

The aim of this project was to identify and map young children’s (who are pre-language) experiences and encounters of natural environments through free exploration and play. The research design drew on a model of posthumanist ecological communities where human and nature are ‘beings in common’, being sensed ecologically. The project explores whether taking up ‘human culture’, particularly ‘languaging’ can interfere with a child’s embodied sensitivity, that is the extent to which the naming of objects and experiences reiterates and imposes the humanist pedagogical project. The children in this project were therefore pre-language and the research followed the children’s expression of sensing and being in the natural environment as they developed their language. The outcome of this project seeded foundational thinking around post humanist readings of preverbal human/nature encounters and will support early years educators to consider pedagogical practices that enhance and support under two year olds ecological nature play/exploration. This report is published in the Centre for educational Research a Western Sydney University and through my professional website.

Inquiry Arts-Pedagogy in Experiential Nature Education

In 2016, I led and implemented the international Inquiry Arts-Pedagogy in Experiential Nature Education (IAPENE) research project. Practitioner, academic and community arts colleagues from early childhood settings in Scotland, Boulder Colorado and New Zealand; Universities of Toronto, Nebraska Lincoln and Colorado; and Dimensions Foundation Nebraska, Arbor Day Foundation Nebraska City and Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto were all participants. The IAPENE research resulted in the development of a pedagogical tool for use in early childhood settings. It was trialled at all six Sydney Early Learning Centres and at early childhood settings in Lincoln Nebraska. This research has scope for ongoing national and international impact. This research directly led to broader international consulting and research engagement.

Pathways to Wellbeing, Skill Development, and Participation: Royal Botanic Garden Master Gardener Volunteer Program

In this research, I worked with a team of three other academics in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, NSW, in investigating the impact of green spaces and gardening on community wellbeing across a range of age groups. The current study, the second in this series, is a three year program working with 210 youth and adult participants from previous community garden programs from social housing estates, who wish to further develop their skills with a view to embarking on related qualifications and employment.

Wilding Nature Play for Children and Families:  An evaluation of the Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Children’s Garden’

I am one of three academics who worked on an evaluation of the award winning Ian Potter Wild Play Children’s Garden (IPWPCG) in collaboration with Centennial Park and the Office of Environment and Heritage NSW. The IPWPCG was established in October 2017 with a view to encourage children and families from diverse groups to engage in nature play and support their connection to nature. The research team investigated the ways that children and families from a range of cultural backgrounds, children with special needs and those from disadvantaged groups engaged with the IPWPCG and the benefits they derive from doing so. The investigation also included the ways in which the IPWPCG site encourages nature play, the associated developmental and/or learning affordances and potential for increased environmental appreciation, awareness and/or action.

The table below outlines my research activity in the last 10 years.

DateProject NameFunding/SourceRole
2020Teach Covid 19: Teachers Perceptions of teaching at the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic in ScotlandUnfundedCo-investigator
2018Vertical Schooling: Examination of the Literature$4000 School of Education Seed GrantCo-investigator
2019Seeding Success: Identifying pillars of the Community Greening program that cultivate personal growth, wellbeing and achievement$30,000
Department of Family and Community Services NSW
2019-2022Pathways to Wellbeing, Skill Development, and Participation: Royal Botanic Garden’s, Master Gardener Volunteer Program$50,000 Department of Family and Community Services NSWCo-investigator
2018/2019Children’s bodies sensing ecologically$4000 School of Education Seed GrantCo-investigator
2018/2019Wilding Nature Play for Children and Families at the Ian Potter, Wild Play Children’s Garden$25,000 Centennial Parklands and Office of Environment and Heritage NSWCo-investigator
2017The impact of Royal Botanic Gardens’ Community Greening program on perceived health, wellbeing, and social benefits in social housing communities in NSW$27,500 Department of Family and Community Services NSWCo-investigator
2016Enhancing Wellbeing Through Acceptance Commitment Therapy$10,000 Education Department NSWCo-investigator
2016International Arts Based Pedagogies and Experiential Nature Education$40,000 Vice Chancellor’s Women in Research FellowshipLead investigator
2015International Arts Based Pedagogies and Experiential Nature Education$27,000 Centre for Educational Research, Writing FellowshipLead investigator
2014Researching Professional Identity in Early Childhood Education.$4,500 School of Education seed grantCo-investigator
2013Futuro Infantil Hoy$25,000 Municipality of Quilicura, ChileCo-Lead