“I could be the king of rubbish!” Children’s perspectives on their role as ‘guardians of the Earth’.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Education
As we move forward from the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, it is timely to investigate how early childhood education for sustainability is shaping an ethic of care and responsibility for the environment amongst young children. Early childhood is regarded as the critical period for the formation of positive environmental attitudes where social action towards change can take place.
This thesis provides insights into the complex nature of young children’s perspectives on their role as guardians of the Earth, or kaitiakitanga, and early childhood education for sustainability. This case study followed a qualitative research methodology. The participants of this research were three and four year old children, attending a kindergarten. The flexible evolving interpretive approach allowed for a range of ways to participate.
The main source of data was rich narrative observations and recordings of the children’s discussions, actions, work, learning stories and every day play episodes in the children’s natural setting. Analysis of the data generated themes that highlighted the children’s views and understandings of their role as guardians of the Earth.
An ecosystem, as a metaphor and conceptual tool, is used to draw attention to the layers and complexities of the children’s perspectives and actions. Characteristics of a complex biotic community of unity, relationships, interactions and all the parts and pieces needed to keep an ecosystem healthy were brought to the fore. The findings emphasise the value and importance children place on their role as guardians of the Earth. Functioning as a part of a team, taking action, and caring for their environment mattered greatly to them. The children’s views were supported by the kindergarten programme and the adults around them. The research findings draw attention to implications for early childhood education for sustainability programme development and teacher practices. A case is put forward for initial and ongoing teacher education across all educational sectors, as well as creating future pathways where children are supported in their role as guardians (kaitiakitanga).