Embodied Childhoodnature Experiences Through Sensory Tours

Reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


This Chapter posits sensory tours as a method for discovering children’s embodied “storied entanglements” in, with, and for the natural world (Ritchie, 2014, p. 50). Drawing from existential forms of phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of perception (C. Smith, Trans.). Routledge, New York. (Original work published in 1945), 1945/2002), and recognizing the significance of somesthetic experiences (Iared et al., 2016), sensory tours provide a novel approach for understanding children’s experiences of being and becoming and relating with other natural beings. During a sensory tour, a child is invited to wear a small wearable video camera; the camera goes where a child goes, sees what a child sees, hears what a child hears, shows what a child touches, and reveals what a child tastes. Informed by the tradition of walking tours, which have been used for some time in place and environmental education research (Hart, 1979), the sensory tour method is uniquely positioned to unravel embodied temporal-spatial meanings during children’s exploratory movements. This method opens up possibilities for bridging the “correspondence” gap between being and thought – by capturing children’s pre-reflective movement – their imaginative song and dance, self-talk, and expressive utterances, as they interact with and relate to others in the more than human living world. The Chapter will draw from research findings involving young children in an Alaskan cultural and wilderness context (including trudging through tundra, transforming sticks into weapons, and scaling up tree castles). Through these examples, I will reveal how children’s first imaginary and sensory encounters inform their sense of being with the natural world.


Child embodiment Phenomenology Wearable cameras Significant life experiences Children’s agency 



The examples included in this chapter were derived from findings from two research projects: Exploring Methods for Engaging Young Children as Active Researchers and Children’s Environmental Identity Development in an Alaskan Native Rural Context. These projects were supported by funding from the University of Alaska Fairbanks URSA program and Alaska EPSCoR NSF award #OIA-1208927 and the state of Alaska.


  1. Barratt Hacking, E., Cutter-Mackenzie, A., & Barratt, R. (2013). Children as active researchers: The potential of environmental education research involving children. In R. B. Stevenson, M. Brody, J. Dillon, & A. E. J. Wals (Eds.), International handbook of research on environmental education (pp. 438–458). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Chaflen, R. (2014). ‘Your panopticon or mine?’ Incorporating wearable technology’s glass and GoPro into visual social science. Visual Studies, 29(3), 299–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chawla, L. (1998). Significant life experiences revisited: A review of research on sources of environmental sensitivity. The Journal of Environmental Education, 29(3), 11–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Christensen, P. H. (2000). Childhood and the cultural constitution of vulnerable bodies. In A. Prout & J. Campling (Eds.), The body, childhood and society (pp. 38–59). New York: St. Martin’s Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clark, A. (2005). Listening to and involving young children: A review of research and practice. Early Child Development and Care, 175(6), 489–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cobb, E. M. (1977). The ecology of imagination in childhood. Dallas, TX: Spring Publications.Google Scholar
  7. Corsaro, W. A. (2015). The sociology of childhood (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. (2007). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care: Languages of evaluation (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Dozza, M., & Fernandez, A. (2014). Understanding bicycle dynamics and cyclist behavior from naturalistic field data. IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, 15(1), 376–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Einarsdottir, J., Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2009). Making meaning: Children’s perspectives expressed through drawings. Early Childhood Development and Care, 179(2), 217–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Forman, G. (1999). Instant video revisiting: The video camera as a “tool of the mind” for young children. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 1(1). Retrieved from
  12. Fung, M. F. (2015). Using first-person perspective filming techniques for a chemistry laboratory demonstration to facilitate a flipped pre-lab. Journal of Chemical Education, 92, 1518–1521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ghekiere, A., Van Cauwenberg, J., de Geus, B., Clarys, P., Cardon, G., Salmon, J., et al. (2014). Critical environmental factors for transportation cycling in children: A qualitative study using bike-alongs. Science & Sports, 29, S18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Green, C. (2012). Listening to children: Exploring intuitive strategies and interactive methods in a study of children’s special places. International Journal of Early Childhood, 44(3), 269–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Green, C. (2013). A sense of autonomy in young Children’s special places. International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 1(1), 8–31.Google Scholar
  16. Green, C. (2015). Toward young children as active researchers: A critical review of the methodologies and methods in early childhood environmental education research. The Journal of Environmental Education, 46(4), 207–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Green, C. (2016a). Sensory tours as a method for engaging children as active researchers: Exploring the use of wearable cameras in early childhood research. International Journal of Early Childhood, 48(3), 277–294. Scholar
  18. Green, C. (2016b). Monsters or good guys: The mediating role of emotions in transforming young children’s encounters with nature. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 21, 125–144.Google Scholar
  19. Green, C. (2017). Children environmental identity development in an Alaska Native rural context. International Journal of Early Childhood, 49, 303. Scholar
  20. Green, M. (2014). Transformational design literacies: Children as active place-makers. Children’s Geographies, 12(3), 189–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hart, R. (1979). Children’s experiences of place. New York: Irvington.Google Scholar
  22. Haw, K. (2008). “Voice” and video: Seen heard and listened to. In P. Thomson (Ed.), Doing visual research with children and young people (pp. 192–207). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. (Macquarrie, J., & Robinson, E., Trans.). New York: Harper and RowGoogle Scholar
  24. Iared, V. G., de Oliveira, H. T., & Payne, P. G. (2016). The aesthetic experience of nature and hermeneutic phenomenology. The Journal of Environmental Education, 47(3), 191–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ingold, T. (2000). The perception of the environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Ingold, T. (2011). Being alive: Essays on movement, knowledge, and description. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. James, A. (2000). Embodied beings: Understanding the self and the body in childhood. In A. Prout & J. Campling (Eds.), The body, childhood and society (pp. 19–37). New York: St. Martin’s Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. James, A. (2009). Agency. In J. Qvortrup, W. A. Corsaro, & M. S. Honig (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of childhood studies (pp. 34–45). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  29. Kindt, D. (2011). Seeing through the eyes of the students: First impressions of recording in the classroom with a GoPro head-mounted camcorder. Nagoya University of Foreign Studies Journal of the School of Contemporary International Studies, 7, 179–199.Google Scholar
  30. Kjørholt, A. T. (2003). ‘Creating a place to belong’: Girls’ and boys’ hut-building as a site for understanding discourses on childhood and generational relations in a Norwegian community. Children’s Geographies, 1(1), 261–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Knight, J., & van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2012). Instructional coaching: A focus on practice. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 5(2), 100–112.Google Scholar
  32. Kylin, M. (2003). Children’s dens. Children Youth and Environments, 13(1), 30–55.Google Scholar
  33. Leong, E., Mahapatra, P., Duncan, J., & Sadri, A. (2014). Train hard, go pro–use of personalised video training in orthopaedic surgery. International Journal of Surgery, 12(1), 1743–1750.Google Scholar
  34. Lindqvist, G. (1996). The aesthetics of play. A didactic study of play and culture in preschools. Early Years, 17(1), 6–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.Google Scholar
  36. Malone, K. (2016). Reconsidering children’s encounters with nature and place using posthumanism. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 32(1), 42–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Merleau-Ponty, (2002). Phenomenology of perception (C. Smith, Trans.). New York: Routledge. (Original work published in 1945).Google Scholar
  38. Palmer, J. A. (1993). Development of concern for the environment and formative experiences of educators. The Journal of Environmental Education, 24(3), 26–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Parkinson, D. D. (2001). Securing trustworthy data from an interview situation with young children: Six integrated interview strategies. Child Study Journal, 31(3), 137–156.Google Scholar
  40. Payne, P. (2013). (Un)timely ecophenomenological framings of environmental education research. In R. B. Stevenson, M. Brody, J. Dillon, & A. E. J. Wals (Eds.), International handbook of research on environmental education (pp. 424–437). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  41. Pink, S. (2011). Multimodality, multisensoriality and ethnographic knowing: Social semiotics and the phenomenology of perception. Qualitative Research, 11(3), 261–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Robson, S. (2011). Producing and using video data in the early years: Ethical questions and practical consequences in research with young children. Children and Society, 25(3), 179–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rowe, V. C. (2009). Using video-stimulated recall as a basis for interviews: Some experiences from the field. Music Education Research, 11(4), 425–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sanchez-García, R., Villaroya-Gil, Á., & Elrio-López, A. (2015). Manipulating task constraints of situated normativity to study decision making in Krav Maga. International Journal of Sports Psychology, 46, 1–22.Google Scholar
  45. Schwandt, T. A. (2015). The sage dictionary of qualitative inquiry (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  46. Seamon, D. (2014). Place attachment and phenomenology: The synergistic dynamism of place. In L. C. Manzo & P. Devine-Wright (Eds.), Place attachment: Advances in theory, methods and applications (pp. 11–22). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  47. Shusterman, R. (2009). Body consciousness and performance: Somaesthetics east and west. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 67(2), 133–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sobel, D. (2001). Children’s special places: Exploring the role of forts, dens, and bush houses in middle childhood. Detriot, MI: Wayne State University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Tanner, T. (1980). Significant life experiences: A new research area in environmental education. The Journal of Environmental Education, 11(4), 20–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Thomson, P. (2008). Children and young people: Voices in visual research. In P. Thomson (Ed.), Doing visual research with children and young people (pp. 1–19). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  51. Thrift, N. (2008). Non-representational theory: Space, politics affect. NewYork: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. United Nations. (1989). Convention for the rights of the child. New York: United Nations.Google Scholar
  53. United Nations. (2005). Convention on the rights of the child: General comment no. 7. Implementing child rights in early childhood. Geneva: United Nations.Google Scholar
  54. Williams, C. C., & Chawla, L. (2016). Environmental identity formation in nonformal environmental education programs. Environmental Education Research, 22(7), 978–1001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Ritchie, J. (2014). Learning from the wisdom of elders. In J. Davis & S. Elliot (Eds.), Research in early childhood education for sustainability: International perspectives and provocations (pp. 248–265). NewYork: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Debra Flanders Cushing
    • 1
  • Robert Barratt
    • 2
  • Elisabeth Barratt Hacking
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Design, Creative Industries FacultyQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.The Eden ProjectCornwallUK
  3. 3.Department of EducationUniversity of BathBathUK

Personalised recommendations