Emotions and dilemmas as driver and resistance in early childhood sustainability education

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In 2018, in connection with a larger curriculum revision, the term sustainability was introduced in the early childhood education curriculum in Denmark. Addressing sustainability in early childhood could be considered a continuation of a long and well-established Nordic tradition of nature and outdoor education with children – but it might also challenge and destabilize this work in various ways. With this paper, we aim to explore this tension through an exploration of the role of emotions in early childhood sustainability education. We will discuss the theme from three different perspectives: love as a driver, love as resistance, and ambivalences and dilemmas in early childhood sustainability education. Theoretically, we draw on literature addressing emotions as an important aspect of relations between humans and nature (Taylor, 2013; Vetlesen & Willig, 2017; Chawla, 2006; Næss, 1999), and on research on complexity and ambivalences in sustainability education.The paper forms part of an ongoing research project on early childhood sustainability education anchored at the University College Copenhagen. Based on critical and constructive approaches, the project aims to explore and support the development of early childhood sustainability education in the Danish context. The project involves explorative and collaborative research activities with teachers, students, practitioners, and children in various educational settings. The research methodologies combine action research and engaged anthropology. The action research component of the project is focusing on educational experiments and knowledge production related to sustainability education in processes involving researchers, teachers and students at University College Copenhagen. Parts of the Nordic nature pedagogies seem to be founded on the assumption that children’s experiences in nature will lead to positive feeling towards nature and ultimately to a wish to protect the natural world, even though a causal relation has not been scientifically proven. The paper discusses different perspectives on how feelings such as love can affect the educational work with sustainability. The significance of emotions, resistance and ambivalences that arise when engaging in sustainable development contributes to knowledge about potentials and challenges within early childhood sustainability education. We argue that dilemmas and ambivalences may be an important entry point for working with sustainability in early childhood education, yet an entry point, which calls for reflections. Research dialogues with practitioners, students and educators on the paradoxes and dilemmas of addressing sustainability opens for discussions and destabilizations of fundamental assumptions about knowledge and practice. This we refer to as the ‘shaking ground’ on which we stand while teaching and researching. Preliminary findings suggest that sustainability in early childhood education holds potentials for discussing and developing nature pedagogy and social belongings through methodological positions of uncertainty, engagements and dialogues.Chawla, L. (2006). Learning to Love the Natural World Enough to Protect it. Barn, (2), 57-78.Næss, A. (1999). Livsfilosofi: Om følelser og fornuft. Kbh.: Multivers.Taylor, A. (2013). Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood. Routledge. London & New YorkVetlesen, A. J. & Willig, R. (2017). Hvad skal vi svare? Hans Reitzels Forlag. Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date6 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2020
EventNERA 2020: Rethinking the futures of education in the Nordic countries - Turku University, Turku, Finland
Duration: 4 Mar 20206 Mar 2020


ConferenceNERA 2020
LocationTurku University
Internet address


  • children and youth
  • learning, educational science and teaching


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