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Interpretive studies

Interpretive studies aim to understand aspects of the participant's experience. Out of the seven, only one study in this category included direct observations of children's activities. This US case study investigated how kindergarten to second grade children and their families chose to guide the process of creating a garden as part of a school-wide, interest based enrichment model (Kozak & McCreight, 2013). They found that students' knowledge of the environment became more nuanced as they collaborated with family members, solved problems, made decisions and engaged directly with the materiality of the earth.

The remaining six studies in this category used some form of children's visual representations as the main form of data. Two studies asked Turkish children and Czech children to draw a picture of 'nature'. The Turkish study found that children drew nature in a stylised way with a range of mountains in the background, a sun, a couple of clouds and a river rising from the mountains (Ulker, 2012). The Czech study, following on from this one, found that Czech children's drawings of nature were not universal in this way (Yilmaz, Kubiatko, & Topal, 2012). A study using a draw-and-write method exploring US children's relationship with the natural world offered considerably more detail about how children understood their everyday worlds (Kalvaitis & Monhardt, 2012). All of these studies were framed in terms of children's connection or relationship with the natural world as developed within environmental education programmes.

A further two studies were framed specifically within sustainability rather than environmental education. A UK study investigated students' understanding of sustainable development using concept mapping and semi-structured interviews (Walshe, 2008). The substantive findings of this research suggest that there is a wide variety of understandings of sustainability among the students, but that generally they allude to the nature, purpose and timescale of planetary sustainability. The study concludes that a lack of agreement as to what education for sustainable development should include impacts on UK students' understanding. Children in the highly urbanised city of Seoul were asked to draw and write their perception of social and environmental development in South Korea (Kim, 2011). The study found that the students' views were grounded in optimistic and positive expectations and visions of science and technology even as some of the children showed awareness and concern about environmental destruction. The study discusses these findings in light of the complex meanings of development in modern Korean society and the challenges teachers there may face in cultivating sustainable views and relations via science and environmental education.

The visibility of children within these studies is not necessarily related to the particular theoretical framework but to how closely the methods of data collection and analysis attend to children's actions or representations. Kalvaitis and Monhardt's (2012) study of children's relationship to nature, for example, allowed an in-depth exploration in which children's understandings could emerge. The collection of data from 175 children from 6 to 11 years of age enabled the researchers to make the general conclusions that the participating children did not see themselves as separate from nature, but they did depict themselves as more distant as they grew older. The method provided some very detailed insights into individual children's understanding of their everyday worlds. The drawings depict a world in which children, family, pets, trees, other living creatures and the textures of the landscape are pictured as one. This is also reflected in the writing that accompanies the drawings:

I'm sitting by a tree watching the sunset. The tan tree is my favourite climbing tree. The mountains are reminding me of my favourite song. Lake reminds me of my favourite book. The cloud is to remember the sweet smell of rain. The nest and the bird is for my love of animals. The flowers are for my friends. The sand is for my aunt.

(Kalvaitis & Monhardt, 2012, p. 223)

For this Grade 4 child, sunset, tree and climbing, mountains, song, lake, book, cloud, sweet smell of rain, nest, bird, flowers, friends, sand and aunt are all part of an everyday world that is relational, affective and expressive, with humans and the natural world co-produced in the language of this child's story.

 
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