Childhoodnature – An Assemblage Adventure

  • Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-KnowlesEmail author
  • Karen Malone
  • Elisabeth Barratt Hacking
Living reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


What follows in this International handbook are nine distinct sections, together with a companion authored by children and young people. It is the first handbook on childhoodnature research, theory, and practice – a new field of research and inquiry. In the handbook introduction, we initially invite readers to join us for a grandtour of the handbook and companion, followed by a rich discussion on the new concept “childhoodnature” co-created by the handbook editors.


Childhoodnature Assemblage Posthuman Anthropocene Childhood 

Embarking on a New Childhoodnature Adventure

“The adventures first” as Lewis Caroll would say. This handbook is an adventure. A new adventure of thought; indeed a thought experiment. It experiments through the compilation of new and old ideas enmeshed into one collection.

We are sitting together at a set of table and chairs constructed for small children. I feel uncomfortable, unstable, my knees are bent. I am slightly hunched over so I can attentively watch at the actions of the small child next to me, without getting too close. Sara has the packet of developed photographs from the disposable camera she handed to me a week ago. She had run up to me with an air of excitement when I had arrived in the Kindergarten room. She wouldn’t be disappointed. I had the photographs. She opens the packet and starts to methodically pull each one out. She pauses at each, looks at it for a while, then places it on the table in front of her.

She stops at one photograph and holds it in her hands. Putting aside the packet with the unviewed photographs still contained inside, she holds the photograph in both hands. For where I am sitting I can see the photograph she is holding has the trunk of two trees and the perspective is as if it was taken looking up into the tree from the ground. I pause and allow her to guide the process.

‘I took this in the park’ she says quietly, almost like she is speaking to herself. I nod my head. ‘I am a leaf fallen from the tree’. She turns her head to see my reaction. I nod again. She pauses, still looking at me, ‘from that tree’, she says and points to the tree on the right of the photograph. She then gets off the chair on the floor beside me and lays down on her back.

She is once again becoming a leaf. I sit still, quietly watching. She is still, quietly being a leaf. (Extract from Malone (2018), Children in the Anthropocene (used with permission of the author))

Grandtour of Childhoodnature Handbook

Through its 81 chapters, including the companion, the Research Handbook on Childhoodnature provides an assemblage of research in the field of childhoodnature. Likened to an assemblage as espoused by Deleuze and Guattari (1987) in their book “a thousand plateaus” the handbook can be entered and exited at any point. It has content and form, ways of being and becoming with many ideas and concepts, some new, many in between old and new and other speculative around how the field could be and the contribution it could make in future thinking. At present no such handbook or major work of this breadth and depth of theoretical and applied thinking and research in the field exists, but beyond this is for the first time it invites children and young people to walk alongside adult researchers and provide their own perspectives through a range of multimodals episodes.

With the advent of a re-turning of the “children in nature” movement, the “new nature movement” has seen an increase in producing the practice and nature of outdoor and nature education that has led to a resurgence in public visibility of the field (see Fletcher, 2017; Gill, 2011; Kahn, 1999; Kahn & Kellert, 2002; Kellert, 2002; Louv, 2011, 2016; Malone, 2016; Malone, Birrell, Boyle, & Gray, 2015; Sobel, 1996, 2008; Taylor, 2013). At the public interface, this resurgence has primarily been orchestrated on a small collection of well-known books (for example Louv, 2005, 2011, 2016). These books, although focused on the ways and means of educating children in nature and effective in engaging the (minority Western) public in such matters (Alam, 2008), have tended not to problematize the implications for this field or be instrumental in supporting new theoretical perspectives and associated research methodologies. Further, we argue that this work maintains the nature-culture binary, which we find problematic, by suggesting a separation between children and nature. As a response the new concept of childhoodnature aligns with a posthuman turn in educational and childhoodnature research and, associated with this, the recognition that humans are having an unprecedented planetary impact on Earth in this time of the Anthropocene. To this extent, posthumanist ontologies reject “that humans are the only species capable of producing knowledge and instead creates openings for other forms/things/objects/beings/phenomenon to know” (Ulmer, 2017, p. 834). Such ontological thinking troubles traditional and scientific ways of knowing between species, opening up “a wealth of research possibilities… when humans are decentered as the only possible knowers” (Ulmer, 2017, p. 834).

The intent of this handbook was therefore to bring together children and researchers interested in the new concept of childhoodnature, whose research work reflected our commitment to problematizing views around childhood and nature and progressing “childhoodnature” work. Here, we offered an opportunity for researchers to gather into a new research collective and, as such, build the momentum. To these ends, this handbook’s endeavor is to consolidate the field of childhoodnature research; it provides an avenue for considering the terrain that lies ahead to continue to build the influence and impact of the field. It provides key information on childhoodnature research together with its underpinning theoretical perspectives and inter-/trans-/antidisciplinary relationships.

Uniquely, this handbook assembles existing research themes and seminal authors in the childhoodnature field alongside new cutting-edge research and researchers drawing on cross-cultural and international research data. From the onset, the underlying objectives of the handbook were twofold:
  • Opening up spaces for childhoodnature researchers in what we have termed a childhoodnature collective; and

  • Assembling Childhoodnature Research into one Collection that informs education and the social sciences

The handbook’s nine sections were edited by 22 Section Editors who took oversight of those particular sections. The sections and editors include:
  1. 1.

    Childhoodnature Theoretical Perspectives (Section Editors: Professor Karen Malone, A/Professor Iris Duhn and Dr Mark Tesar)

  2. 2.

    Childhoodnature Research Methodologies (Section Editor: Professor Paul Hart)

  3. 3.

    Cultural, Political and Wild Perspectives of Childhoodnature (Section Editors: Professor Sean Blenkinsop and Professor Peter Kahn)

  4. 4.

    Childhoodnature and the Anthropocene: An Epoch of “Cenes” (Section Editors: Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, Professor Karen Malone and A/Professor Hilary Whitehouse and Professor Marianne Krasny)

  5. 5.

    Childhoodnature Significant Life Experience (Section Editors: Elisabeth Barratt Hacking, Dr Debra Cushing and Professor Robert Barratt)

  6. 6.

    Childhoodnature Ecological Systems (Section Editors: Dr Marianne Logan and Dr Helen Widdop Quinton)

  7. 7.

    Childhoodnature Animal Relations (Section Editors: Professor Pauliina Rautio and Tracy Young)

  8. 8.

    Childhoodnature Pedagogies and Place (Section Editors: Professor Bob Stevenson, Dr Greg Mannion and Dr Snowy Evans)

  9. 9.

    Childhoodnature Ecological Aesthetics and the Learning Environment (Section Editors: Dr David Rousell and Professor Dilafruz Williams)


The handbook also includes a childhoodnature Companion authored by children and young people, edited/curated by distinguished early career researchers (Dr Helen Widdop Quinton, Dr. Laura Piersol, Dr. David Rousell and Dr. Joshua Russell) supported by a panel of youth reviewers. The companion is located in the middle of the handbook signifying its centrality. It operates as a milieu akin to Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) conception of milieu that is vibratory, chaotic yet relational. The companion vibrates through/in/as the handbook where children are nature.

Section 1: Childhoodnature Theoretical Perspectives (Section Editors: Professor Karen Malone, Dr Iris Duhn and Dr Mark Tesar)

In setting out on an uncertain and tenuous adventure into the future, theories are needed which can help humans effectively respond to the rapidly changing conditions of everyday life on earth. This is particularly the case in the emerging field of childhoodnature studies, as children themselves will be forced to grapple with existential threats associated with the onset of the Anthropocene era, including climate change, social instability, and water crises, among many others. This section assembles a theoretical toolkit which can enable childhoodnature encounters to flourish into the Anthropocene and indeed post-Anthropocene. In this undertaking, this section does not put diverse theoretical perspectives into competition but rather assembles theories as tools which can produce sparks when knocked together. These are theories that you can pack up and take for a walk, theories that can help get you out of sticky situations, and theories which children themselves can use to address the crises which they will inevitably inherit. As such, this section puts multiple philosophical perspectives into consequential relation such that they can become productive in their differences. This endeavor asks us to take stock of theories which have been productive in the field to this point and also to seek new theories which are emerging in direct response to the contemporary moment.

Section 2: Childhoodnature Research Methodologies (Section Editor: Professor Paul Hart)

This section focuses on the framing of childhoodnature research and its interpretations and applications, as well as trends and issues. Methodological inquiry in the social sciences normally rests upon certain epistemological interests, ontological assumptions, and axiological commitments. This basic frame of research is complicated further in environmental education research when the formative context of childhoodnature is included. Additional demands are placed on the conceptualization, contextualization, representation, and legitimation of the research problem, purposes, processes, values, and inevitably, usefulness. Methodological deliberations and debates in environmental education research have a four decade long history (strictly in a Western minority sense) but are now subject to “new” theoretical perspectives introduced in Section 1 while also drawing inspiration from the rise of the environmental arts, humanities, sciences, and related genres of emergent inquiry. Paradigmatic change for childhoodnature is a potential – exacerbated practically by the local-global consequences of the Anthropocene now being felt intergenerationally and lived cross culturally. Children and childhood are particularly vulnerable. How, and in what ways, does methodological inquiry about the researcher-researched (childhoodnatures) relationship access children’s lived experiences; historicized selves/subjectivities and identity formations including family and schooling ecologies; actions and interactions with (and against) nature; and “worldviews”? Methodological inquiries into the framings, interpretations/applications, and trends/issues supported by, where possible, distinctive empirical insights are invited. Exemplary contributions to this section demonstrate how the methodological reflexivity of childhoodnature studies advances the qualities, values, status, and efficacy of environmental education research and the social sciences more broadly.

Section 3: Cultural, Political, and Wild Perspectives of Childhoodnature (Section Editors: Professor Sean Blenkinsop and Professor Peter Kahn)

This small yet significant section speaks to the transformative power of children interacting with nature, and more wild nature, in diverse settings, including schools. It considers investigations of nature and wildness, nature as teacher, and educational, political, social, and cultural transformation. Consideration is given to ways in which current and near future (often digital) technologies are impacting children’s learning and experience of nature and authenticity of relation. Chapters also include innovative educational work that is currently happening that imagines beyond the boundaries of conventional affluent minority educational norms. Linkages are established between theory, practice, ethics, diversity, and contested ideas of childhoodnature.

Section 4: Childhoodnature and the Anthropocene: An Epoch of “Cenes” (Section Editors: Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, Professor Karen Malone and A/Professor Hilary Whitehouse and Professor Marianne Krasny)

Section Four troubles childhoodnature and the Anthropocene, a scientific and popular term used to described the present human-nature conditions on planet Earth. The section does this through eight contributions which broadly speak to four ‘cenes’, namely: children in the Anthropocene – child-cene; woman in the Anthropocene – gyno-cene; Cities as sites of the Anthropocene – city-cene; and relations with the morethanhuman – kin-cene. The lines though between/within/through these identified cenes are porous and enmeshed.

Childhoodnature Companion (Companion Editors/Curators: Dr Helen Widdop Quinton, Dr Laura Piersol, Dr David Rousell and Dr Joshua Russell)

This “Companion” to the Childhoodnature Handbook is a co-creation between children, young people, and adults, curated by four academics and five graduate students to bring children and young people’s voices to the foreground. What does it mean to create a Companion? How might the voices of children and young people become “companions” with the other chapters that make up this Handbook? The Companion editors began the process of compiling and curating the Companion with these open questions in mind. They wanted to explore how a notion of companionship could grow and develop organically and perhaps become something more than what we had expected. In early 2017, the Companion Editors extended an international call for contributions from children and young people all over the world. The call asked for children and young people (from early childhood to 25) to submit essays, photographs, poetry, drawings, creative writing, or personal narratives that expressed their experiences and understandings of childhoodnature. They asked for “anything and everything that you, as children, teenagers, and young people (ages 025), might contribute that draws on your ideas about nature, your experiences with animals, or your thoughts about environmental issues.”

The companion editors’ editorial approach to constructing the Companion has attempted to preserve the quality and diversity of the submissions that they received. They also worked with youth reviewers who helped to shape their approach and understanding of the material.

The Companion is something new in academic publishing – there were no models or templates to guide either the Handbook Editors or Companion Editors. Rather than attempting to represent, interpret, or categorize the experiences of children and young people, the Companion Editors created four distinct compositions of interwoven feelings, places, sensations, and ideas:
  • Composition 1: stories of human and nonhuman relation

  • Composition 2: practices of sense and sensation

  • Composition 3: eco-poetics of childhoodnature encounter

  • Composition 4: the childhoodnature imaginary

In putting these compositions together, the Companion Editors endeavored to give each submission space to breathe, inhabit, and saturate the page, while also weaving together different voices and geographical locations to produce a range of feelings and sensations for the reader.

Section 5: Childhoodnature Significant Life Experience (Section Editors: Elisabeth Barratt Hacking, Dr Debra Cushing and Professor Robert Barratt)

Being in nature as a child has long been reported as an important contributor to being an advocate for the environment later in life. This section investigates the multiple-complexities about what people attribute their significant lived experiences to and how it has shaped their environmental choices. Significant Life Experiences (SLE) was coined in 1980 by Tom Tanner (Chawla, 1998) who inspired an avid interest in this area of research. Tanner’s ground-breaking study identified affective experiences in nature that had an impact upon people’s respect and appreciation for the environment. Following on from Tanner’s work, further research has also endorsed and confirmed the power of SLE in nature. But what is it about these SLEs that have such an impact upon people’s lives? The quality of SLE has been shown to influence learning, not just in early childhood but throughout life. Chawla has noted that natural areas, family influences, organization, negative experiences, and/or education have been attributed to creating these SLE. While children are often not able to recall these experiences, they do shape lifelong learning, which clearly develops into personal adult characteristics, as is demonstrated by adults’ reflections upon their experiences. This section provides a snapshot of current research and associated understandings of SLE in childhoodnature. Authors draw on SLE reported from around the world contextualizing the influence of society, people, and culture on childhoodnature relationships and theorize on the meaning of both social disadvantages and negative environmental experiences. By developing deeper understanding of these experiences, authentic achievements in environmental education are afforded.

Section 6: Childhoodnature Ecological Systems (Section Editors: Dr Marianne Logan and Dr Helen Widdop Quinton)

Section 6 focuses on childhoodnature within the complexity of the entanglement of the biological environment with the physical environment. It incorporates childhoodnature in the light of the magnitude of environmental change as a result of human activity, indeed the Anthropocence. Ecological literacy, ecological thinking, ecological identity, and whole systems thinking are central to the eight chapters which comprise this Section. The section (re)explores systems thinking, ecological systems and the interaction of humans within those systems. The chapters reveal a posthuman turn for reconceptualizing ecological systems thinking in childhoodnature.

Section 7: Childhoodnature Animal Relations (Section Editors: Professor Pauliina Rautio and Tracy Young)

Until recent times human-animal relationships have received minimal attention from educational and social science research or have rarely focused on children’s interspecies relations. We know that animals matter in the lives of children and the Handbook and Section Editors have chosen to privilege these human-animal relationships through this section. The complex relationships with children, animals, and environment provide a space for ethical considerations that critique the social positioning of animals in education and society. The ten chapters provoke a diversity of (re)thinking of child/animal relationships in communities, families, and education with a range of suggested ways that animals can be elevated as crucial components of pedagogical theory and practice. The authors grapple with taken-for-granted interspecies relationships in their messy, complex, and multiple forms, looking beyond the hidden, the marginalized, the unexplained, and the ill-considered. This questioning of multiple relatings has the potential to (re)imagine new models, theories, and ways of crossing boundaries that blur the illusion of separation between children and animals.

Section 8: Childhoodnature Pedagogies and Place (Section Editors: Professor Bob Stevenson, Dr Greg Mannion and Dr Snowy Evans)

This section explores a range of pedagogies enacted in diverse contexts with a childhoodnature focus. Place is an integral element of childhoodnature experience and education; this section represents writing that engages with a depth of pedagogical understandings and a breadth of pedagogical repertoires. The way that childhoodnature centric approaches promote critical thinking, problem solving, resilience, adaptability, and preparedness in the current and future global uncertainties is considered and discussed in this section. The seven chapters in this section document current research and thinking about place and pedagogy supported with illustrative vignettes and case studies from a range of educational contexts.

Section 9: Childhoodnature Ecological Aesthetics and the Learning Environment (Section Editors: Dr David Rousell and Professor Dilafruz Williams)

This section explores the ecological and aesthetic dimensions of learning environments in which childhoodnature encounters take place. While environmental education has traditionally placed children in contact with a relational and interconnected world, too often the aesthetic dimensions of these encounters have been overlooked. As revealed across the ten chapters in this section, eco-aesthetics provides fertile grounds for interdisciplinary research and practice which attends to richly textured compositions of childhoodnature through a diverse range of material, social, and conceptual practices. Such approaches have become increasingly relevant following the onset of the Anthropocene epoch, which has provoked new modes of thinking and practice transgressing established barriers between the arts, humanities, sciences, and technology. In attending to the sensuous and affective qualities of childhoodnature encounters, multiple sites are opened up as vital spaces for children to respond to the changing material conditions of everyday life. These spaces are not limited to national parks, remote wilderness areas, nature schools, or community gardens but also include art galleries, online environments, museums, urban landscapes, everyday domestic spaces, among many other settings. Each of these sites of engagement can be considered inherently ecological and aesthetic spaces which afford and constrain the very possibilities for movement, learning, and thought. This perspective supports methodological turns towards arts-based, creative, and sensory practices in educational research with children.

A Childhoodnature Emergence

In recent years, there has been a significant return to the enduring sentiment that providing opportunities for children to be immersed in “nature” particularly in the places close to where they live is an essential way to support children’s opportunities to reconnect with the planet. Premised on the argument that a nature-child connection is essential for their health, well-being, and their potentiality to be environmental stewards and that unless children are re-natured then all these attributes would be compromised. This is a significant challenge, engaging children to be the potential “masters” (using this term is to signify how humans, particularly male Eurocentric humans, have come to view themselves in relation to nature) of the Earth’s destiny on behalf of the human/nonhuman species. Educators in sustainable development, environmental, and nature education as fields of educational study have sought to idealize and argue that the central challenge of education is to encourage and entice the human moral desire to “conserve nature,” to “protect animals,” and for children to grow up and be politically active agents for change (see Cutter-Mackenzie & Rousell, 2018; Cutter-Mackenzie, Edwards, Moore, & Boyd, 2014; Rousell, Cutter-Mackenzie, & Foster, 2017). Big-ticket environmental issues such as limits to production, climate change, and animal conservation are the backbone of sustainability, environmental, and nature education; to be able to “overcome” these significant global issues, a well-educated and natured child willing to have the moral certitude to take up the challenges has been viewed as essential. Cutter-Mackenzie et al. (2014, p. 26) caution such “child” positionings:

An anthropocentric perspective emphasises the use of the environment for human gain, and so sustainability is associated for some scholars with responding to this use so that children become ‘agents of change’, working to protect the earth’s resources from being depleted. Whilst this approach undoubtedly has value… critics argue that an ecocentric [relational] perspective is more appropriate.

Taylor (2017, p. 1462) further problemalizes stewardship in environmental education and traces this belief in the potential environmental immersion to produce agents of change back to the writings of Wilson (1993), Chawla (2009) and the historical traditions of Rousseau: “… the close association of young children with nature can be traced back to Rousseau’s figurative ‘Nature’s Child’ legacy and the subsequent Romantic western cultural traditions that perpetuate the view that young children have a special and close affinity with the natural world (see Taylor, 2013, pp. 3–57). From this legacy, the assumption is that, if nurtured, children’s ‘biophilia’ (or innate love of nature) will predispose them to become environmental stewards” (p. 5). Taylor (2017) then goes on to argue that these beliefs are a divergence between good romantic nature and bad evil culture with children positioned as “bad culture” in need of a return/reconnect back to their pure natured bodies. She argues that these beliefs are supported by a set of two keenly held assumptions: “Firstly, they assume that nature exists ‘out there’ in a pure space that is somehow separate to the corrupting cultural/technological/urban domain in which most children grow up” (p. 1452); and “Secondly, and concomitantly, they assume that young children’s ‘natural’ place is in nature, and that the increasing paucity of children’s first hand nature experiences in their overly urban lives constitutes a threat to their wellbeing” (p. 1452).

These beliefs have been supported also through much of the recent studies by agencies such as the US-based child and nature network ( where the focus is on creating opportunities to enhance children’s experiences and capacity to encounter “real” nature. In their fervor to improve what may have been viewed as degraded environments or deprived children, what they have not done is look closely at the relations of those entities and things that surround and embrace children in the urban places where they live. Questions about what the meanings of those child-nature encounters are or even to acknowledge that children, no matter where they are (in slums or in a conservation park), are engaging with a range of different types of “nature” relations have been missing from the literature, something explored and unpacked deeply in this childhoodnature handbook.

Dickinson, for instance, has argued in the past that (2013, p. 7) “Fall-recovery narratives can be problematic in how they reify the human-nature split, obscure environmental justice, influence irresponsible behavior, and normalize contemporary conditions and relationships.” What she means by fall-recovery narratives is a form of reminiscing about the past that has been sanitized/romanticized in order to present a specific view of childhood and nature. That is, for example, the view that “the past was always ‘good’ and ‘virtuousness’ particularly in terms of the child-nature relationship and the focus should be on returning children to this desired natured state” (Malone, 2018). The past generation is sentimentalized as having grown up in an utopian dream in which all children had a childhood where they were safer, had more freedom to be “children,” and were left to explore nature (particularly wild nature). This return to a “better” nature relation is contrived on an assumption that past generations had a closer and more intimate relation with the planet and “de-emphasizes” according to Dickinson (2013, p. 7) “a long history of environmental degradation and disconnectedness.”

Past studies on children’s perceptions of nature in a range of urban and peri-urban environments reveal that unlike the simplified and commodified definitions of “childhoodnature relations,” child/nature relations are complex and these encounters of children with and through their natured selves, as nature, with nature, being entangled with natural entities can often be uncomfortable, difficult, and tricky. We do not need to go far back into the literature to find this work. Teenagers in Wals’s (1994) early study on perceptions of nature (one of the first ever in the field), for example, defined their view of “nature” as a threatening place and validated an anthropocentric desire by the young people to control, tame and manage the wilds. In his study, the students’ perception of nature was based upon “..a combination of their own fantasies and the unspeakable acts that occur in local parks, which are often well documented by the media” (p. 132). In their home neighborhood, the students feared the forest and trees. One student remarked that they would prefer forests with “just enough trees to give you shade, but not enough for murderers and rapists to be able to hide behind them” (p. 135). Wals’s (1994) results are consistent with other research studies where “nature” (including animals) can be viewed as both threatening and fascinating (Evans, 2013; Evans et al., 2007; Phenice & Griffore, 2003).

Participatory research with 10–12 year old children in a disadvantaged urban area of the UK (Barratt Hacking et al., 2007) found that children held a realist rather than romanticized view of childhoodnature relations. While this research predates the new concept of childhoodnature, looking back it is clear that childhoodnature experience was important to the children. Specifically, they demonstrated concern for the (local) environment for themselves, other children, and adults and more than human nature. The children conveyed a real sense of emotional attachment to, and physical engagement with, the local environment (Barratt & Barratt Hacking, 2008). Despite living in a disadvantaged environment, the children viewed more than human nature as integral and important to their lives and their locality. The research found that children had intricate local environment knowledge which “is generated through exploration and play, passed to the children from their peers and families through stories, and is renewed through contact with each other, with older children, with adults” (Barratt Hacking et al., 2007, p. 131). Green spaces in the form of parks and school grounds, though limited in this urban area, were significant in children’s lives, not least as places beyond the adult gaze to play, socialize, and enjoy. Nevertheless, there were concerns about how older youths and adults posed a threat to the children’s safety and enjoyment in the park and to the wildlife contained in it. The child researchers’ analysis of data they gathered about their own and their peers’ local environment perspectives led them to conclude that:

Many of us move around without adults now… we have detailed knowledge that is different to adults and we use our knowledge differently to them. The environment is important to us, we want more wildlife, we want a cleaner and safer environment, we want to care for the environment. (Barratt Hacking & Barratt, 2009, p. 379)

While attaching great importance to local environment quality the children reported that they and their peers have “difficulty taking action to achieve what they want for their local environment; (and) do not know how to go about it” (Barratt Hacking et al., 2013, p. 447). The evidence from this research showed how the children viewed their natural worlds as intertwined with their socio-cultural worlds and that children have “a strong desire to be involved in local improvement; for example, they are concerned about environmental quality and would like to see more habitats” (Barratt Hacking et al., 2007, p. 132).

Then taking into account the diversity of children and childhoods now existing in multiple ways of knowing being in the world, childhoodnature has the opportunity to open up a range of different possibilities. Hordyk, Dulde, and Shem (2014), for example, reporting on their study of immigrant and refugee children in Canada revealed that for children coming from majority world nations: “Nature was not a utopian ideal waiting to be experienced by children” and “human and animal predators made walks in a forest dangerous pass-times” (p. 6). Malone (2018, p. 124) also revealed this less than romantic view of childhoodnature relations from her studies in Bolivia which are further expanded in the handbook:

The majority of children growing up in the slums of La Paz although in a built and very altered environment were deeply embedded in the potential of intra-acting with the natural environment. This was not an imagined pure nature, a wooded forest with birds and butterflies; it is the difficult dirty gritty world of living in poverty with nature through shared material matter.

The world outside of the Western minority gaze also reveals a view of the natural world as entangled in cosmological philosophies dating back for thousands of years in many indigenous nations. The diversity of possibilities and potential for childhoodnature as a means for relational ways of being with nature, child, and earth allows something new and old to happen differently:

Children in La Paz are deeply entangled in a relation with their natural world. This is not just a worldly present relation but a deeply entrenched history of reverence and respect for nature and the earth that has evolved through their indigenous spiritual beliefs of the Pachamama. (Pachma meaning ‘cosmos’ and mama meaning ‘mother’). In the indigenous philosophy of the Andean people, the Pachamama is a goddess. She is Mother Earth. She sustains life on earth. Water, Earth, Sun, and Moon are Mother Earth’s four Quechuan cosmological entities. (Malone, 2018, p. 103)


By shifting away from the child in nature as the only agential body and focusing on the materiality of child bodies and the bodies of other nonhuman entities as relational assemblages allows this new ethical imagining for children and their encounters with place and nature. In this handbook, we are seeking to reframe the importance of childhoodnature relational encounters as central to children’s collective agency with and through being with others. This allows us to realize the messy, entangled natures of living in a less than romantic world. Throughout the world at this time of the Anthropocene, children are living natured lives with a host of others. A focus on the human subject to the detriment of ‘other’ possible agentic subjects has narrowed the view of child-nature relations and supported the Cartesian divides human/nature, adult/child, and self/other. Taylor (2013, p. 66) describing the recent conversations in the field states:

… such conversations have constellated around the challenge of thinking differently about nature, as well as what it means to be human. Those involved have undertaken to reconceptualize what counts as nature outside the bounds of the nature/culture divide, to build connections rather than rehearse separations.

The research conversations with the emergent compositions of the companion have sought to disrupt beliefs and assumptions around children and nature by engaging with the majority of the world’s children’s real (rather than imagined) childhoodnatures. Essentially, what this makes clear is that childhood encounters with the “environment” are not always as restorative, healthy, or spiritually uplifting as some nostalgic stories have seduced many to believe. A child-nature reconnect as purported by many in the fields of childhood and nature are in danger of continuing to reinforce the human-nature divide by continuing to position humans as “exceptional” and outside of nature, a sentiment that some may say has set humanity on its current destructive path. This handbook holds the space for something new to happen outside these past histories, bringing emerging new relational potentials through childhoodnature.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles
    • 1
    Email author
  • Karen Malone
    • 2
  • Elisabeth Barratt Hacking
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Education, Sustainability, Environment and the Arts in Education (SEAE) Research ClusterSouthern Cross UniversityGold CoastAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Education, Faculty of Health, Arts and DesignSwinburne University of TechnologyHawthornAustralia
  3. 3.Department of EducationUniversity of BathBathUK

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