Children's Place in Sustainability Education

This blue circle is my world. The green part is Australia where I live. The anchors are holding onto the world 'cause there is rubbish on Australia. The world is supposed to move slowly but it is moving really fast to get rid of all the rubbish so the anchors have to hold it in place and only the rubbish will fly off.

(Clayton Cole, Kurri Kurri Preschool)

Clayton is four years old and goes to Kurri Kurri Preschool in a rural coal mining area outside of the industrial town of Newcastle, about two hours north of Sydney on the east coast of Australia. Kurri Kurri is surrounded by coal mines, and the Newcastle Harbour has massive coal loading docks, a new and even bigger one being constructed by Chinese interests. In the sea off the coast of Newcastle, sleeping barges wait to enter the harbour and receive their load of black coal to carry over the sea to the harbours of the coal buyers in Asia. Clayton is inevitably and irreversibly connected to their worlds. The director of his preschool welcomes others to come into the school to work with the children; it is a bustling place full of life and child energy. The children have made a brightly coloured fairy garden with patterns of multicoloured recycled plastics arranged in patterns in between the succulent plants. In an inside room, a little boy sits quietly painting with an educator who talks to him about the figure on a motor bike. The child says, 'that's my brother, it's a picture for his birthday'. In the yard outside, a group of children around a metal water tank on a stand wield hoses, pipes and containers, laughing, shouting as they duck the streams of water coming at them. Two others sit inside a temporary fence of wire mesh, one holding a grey furry guinea pig close to her chest. 'Do you want to pat him?', she asks. The grey ball of fur wriggles and extends its claws down her arm. 'Look', she says, 'scratches', and pulls the guinea pig back close to her chest. The other child, waiting his turn, says, 'the boy one is in his house, he's got a sore on his back, it's yucky'.

The adults in this preschool respond to children's initiatives in place making. One of the educators has been exploring the topic of rubbish and recycling in their sustainability learning. The children participate in an ongoing project with another university researcher about 'children's place making in a globalising world' (Millei, Gallagher, Walker, & Buchanan, 2014). This researcher describes a scene where she is working intently with a child who is making a map of his travels all around the world when another repeatedly joins in to do his note taking. Asked what he is doing, he replies, 'I am a researcher'. Meanwhile a girl interjects with numerous cups of tea and cookies for a tea party for the four of them. Children decide on their part in this project. They can work with an artist and the researcher to express their ideas about the world in visual, digital and verbal forms. Clayton's sustainability learning and his global imaginary intersect in his detailed drawing and the quirky imagination of his story. What is it that emerges for children from their profoundly local places in the space of global imaginaries in trying to make sense of our changing worlds? What pedagogical opportunities can enable children to build a future world in which they feel empowered, engaged and hopeful? These are the questions we wish to ask in this book.

Children of all ages have their own views and understandings of their worlds that are qualitatively different from those of adults (James & Prout, 1990). Like many other outsider groups within society, children have little power, spending much of their time in places that are regulated by adults (Matthews, Limb, & Taylor, 1998). This is particularly the case in schooling contexts where the position of adults as controllers of power and holders of knowledge makes children invisible (Murris, 2013; Mannion, 2003). There is now a well established expectation that sociogeographical investigation of childhood should be with children rather than on or for children. This sociorelational view of children and society shifts attention away from age as a cultural determinant. Within this framework children are understood as cultural producers and social actors in their own right rather than pre-adult becomings, involved in shaping their social and environmental transactions at a variety of sociospatial scales (Scourfield, Dicks, Drakeford, & Davies, 2006).

This shift in focus recognises the validity of children's viewpoints and their ability to articulate and construct their own unique perspectives, agendas and subjective understandings as a way of participating in communities as active members (Prosser & Burke, 2008; Burke, 2007). Crucially, Skivenes, and Strandbu (2006, p. 11) argue that it is 'not sufficient that children are invited to participate and can express themselves. Consideration must be given to the ways in which states and adults view children and gain a proper understanding of their opinions, as well as ways in which adults can facilitate their participation'. The discourse of children's participation and 'voice' emphasises the need to understand children from the perspective of their immediate lifeworlds and to recognise that they may have very different values about place and space from those of adults. Rather than assuming children know less than adults, children may know something else (Matthews, et al., 1998). The idea of the 'something else' inspires our interest in our research with children.

The spatial meaning making that is so significant for sustainability education is something we know very little about when it comes to children. A special edition of the journal Local Environment on 'Children, young people and sustainability' identified that in many parts of the world, it is still not unusual to find major national, regional or local policy agendas relating to sustainability that make no specific reference to children and young people. Where children and young people do figure in policy discourses pertaining to sustainability, their presence is often slight, circumscribed and precarious. Many policy and educational interventions with children and young people tend to be limited in their spatial scope, being overwhelmingly focused upon either learning in the classroom or behaviours in the home. This tendency underestimates the complexity of these places and overlooks the much more complexly distributed everyday ecologies of life courses and lifestyles. Such limitations preclude consideration of complex interconnections between everyday spaces and global dimensions in children's lives and imaginaries (Horton, Hadfield-Hill, Christensen, & Kraftl, 2013, p. 250).

 
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