Childhoodnature Pedagogies and Place: An Overview and Analysis

  • Robert B. StevensonEmail author
  • Greg Mannion
  • Neus (Snowy) Evans
Living reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


Nature-based experiences have gained increasing attention for their capacity to foster children’s connectedness with nature, referred to here as childhoodnature. This chapter explores childhoodnature from a pedagogical perspective of place, beginning with an overview of the conceptual foundations of and distinctions between place-based education and place-responsive and place-conscious pedagogy. We then examine recently emergent post-human and new materialist ontologies and pedagogies for their contributions to new understandings of and approaches to childhoodnature connections. Besides providing a map of the childhoodnature pedagogies and place section of this handbook, we assess the extent to which the theoretical and empirical contributions of the section chapters lay the groundwork for developing the pedagogies of place literature. Despite marked differences in cultural contexts, a number of common themes emerged across the chapters, particularly in relation to the intent and focus of the pedagogies of place. All chapters expand and/or challenge current understandings and/or preconceptions of place, nature, childhoodnature relationships, and pedagogy. A number of chapters highlight the role of agency, embodied learning, and place relations in enabling children to build connectedness with nature. Finally, in considering the chapters as a whole, some implications are offered for future research.


Place-conscious pedagogy Place-responsive pedagogy Post-humanism More-than-human Connectedness with nature New materialism 


The children of today will bear the brunt of the impact of the age of the Anthropocene and in particular of climate change (Cutter-Mackenzie, Edwards, Moore, & Boyd, 2014; Stevenson, Nichols & Whitehouse, 2016). At the same time, concerns have been expressed about children’s increased physical and emotional distancing from nature (Louv, 2006; Soga & Gaston, 2016). Childhood is increasingly disconnected from nature with more time spent indoors drawing on technology-mediated play than outdoors with nature play activities. Critics emphasize that the growth of technology and the reduction of greenspace in many urban contexts resulting in limited nature-driven play poses a threat for children’s well-being and development (Corraliza, Collado, & Bethelmy, 2012; Louv, 2016). One question that remains unknown is whether the childhoodnature disconnection will affect children’s future capacity to mediate emergent Anthropogenic impacts. This disconnection is viewed as an urgent priority to address, given the precariousness of the current state of natural ecosystems on which human survival is dependent.

Nature-based experiences have gained increasing attention for their capacity to foster children’s connectedness with nature (Chawla & Derr, 2012; Ward-Smith et al. this volume). Writers over time have focused on the importance of these direct experiences in nature, through emphasizing, for example, the power of silence and solitude in connecting to nature (Knapp, 1996) or sensory immersion to cultivate an emotional attachment to the natural environment (Van Matre, 1990). More recently, the focus has been on these experiences being centered and bounded in the particular place(s) of where children’s lives are lived irrespective of its spatial and cultural location. The importance of fostering children’s emotional relationships with place has also been extended beyond the human environment to interactions with the more-than-human world, to all species and nonliving things and to place itself. This raises the empirical question posed by Tooth and Renshaw in this section: Can children become emotionally interconnected with other living, as well as nonliving, entities?

Authors in this section of the handbook grapple with the question of what kind of pedagogies of place facilitates the cultivation of children’s connections with nature? They explore the theoretical underpinnings and value assumptions of a range of pedagogies of place enacted in diverse educational, cultural, and geographical contexts to enhance children’s connections with nature and examine the outcomes and impacts of these pedagogies on this connectivity for learning, for individuals and human communities, and for the sustainability of eco-social communities. The chapters present current research and diverse ways of (re)thinking about place-centered pedagogy, supported by case studies and vignettes from these contexts. Contributors also explore the meaning of place in relation to children’s interactions, connections, and other entanglements with “nature.”

In this introductory chapter, we first examine theoretical foundations of the broad concept of place-based education and then its limitations as revealed by the subsequent related but more critical or post-critical conceptualizations of place-responsive and place-conscious pedagogy. The relevance of emerging post-human and new materialist ontologies and pedagogies is examined for their contributions to new understandings of and approaches to childhoodnature interactions and connections. Pedagogies of place that speak to politics and ethics (of Indigeneity and equity) are also briefly addressed. We then draw on selected literature that offers a praxis approach to pedagogies of place in teacher practice to begin to address the question of how might pedagogies of place research contribute to helping educators decide what to do next in a given place? Finally, we outline each of the seven contributing chapters in relation to the place-related frameworks presented and the more recent turns to new materialist and post-human pedagogies before finally analyzing the theoretical and empirical contributions of these chapters to the pedagogies of place literature.

From Place-Based Education to Place-Conscious/Responsive Pedagogy

Place-based education has been defined as grounding learning in the local or the particular place of students’ lived experience (Smith, 2002). Smith argued that place-based education was not a new phenomenon as its approach could be traced back to John Dewey who noted the “disconnection between school and the world and sought to overcome it in the University of Chicago Lab School that he and his colleagues created at the end of the 19th century” (p. 586). Dewey attributed the problem to “the fact that children possess minds that are primarily drawn to actual phenomena rather than to ideas about phenomena” (p. 586). The initial resurgence of interest in PBE, as further described by Sobel, essentially focused on a pedagogical approach to enhancing student learning of traditional disciplinary concepts in the curriculum as well as connections to the community and the natural world:

Place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to education increases academic achievement, helps students develop stronger ties to their community, enhances students’ appreciation for the natural world, and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens. (Sobel, 2004, p. 6)

The primary value of place-based education has been summarized as residing “in the way that it serves to strengthen children’s connections to others and to the regions in which they live” (Smith, 2002, p. 594). Bonnett (2013) situates these connections in all human experience. Since we are all emplaced, “we dwell in a world ……of locales of intimately related things” (p. 264). He further describes:

the anticipatory and ecstatic nature of emplacement, in which we are always beyond ourselves, with the emplaced things that we encounter. This constitutes a flow of involvements that sustains our sense of who we are and what we are doing … In this sense we are (literally) enlivened by encounters with emplaced things, sometimes quite explicitly, as say by the promise of the unknown encounters that are to come as we set off for a walk on a fine spring morning. (p. 266)

These notions of emplacement and presence have important implications for pedagogies of place in illuminating the potential development of enhanced awareness or consciousness. The latter is explicitly foregrounded by the concepts of place-responsive and place-conscious pedagogy. Although often used interchangeably in the literature with place-based, both place-responsive and place-conscious pedagogy represent important theoretical distinctions from the more widely used term and conceptualization. Place-responsive pedagogy has been defined as “explicit teaching by-means-of-an-environment with the aim of understanding and improving human-environment relations” (Mannion, Fenwick, & Lynch, 2013, p. 803). What is important, the authors argue, is that the core process of teaching and learning “is both pedagogically and ontologically linked,” whereas “[m]ost conceptions of place-based education lack this ontological understanding and therefore can be distinguished from place-responsive education and pedagogy (Karrow & Fazio, 2010).”

Gruenewald (later Greenwood) (2003a, b) introduced the notion and discourse of critical place-based and place-conscious education by linking critical pedagogy and place-based education through the two important ontological relationships of decolonization and reinhabitation. Sometimes a heightened awareness of place:

leads to a process of decolonization, that is, coming to understand and resist the ideas and forces that allow for the privileging of some people, and the oppression of others – human and more-than-human. At other times, place-consciousness means learning how to reinhabit our communities and regions in ways that allow for more sustainable relationships now and in the long run. (Gruenewald & Smith, 2008, p. vii)

In A Critical Theory of Place-Conscious Education, Greenwood (2013) argues the need for a decolonization of places by revealing “the often contestable nature of the dominant beliefs and motives” (p. 97) that shapes our perspectives of places. This process of decolonization enables a reinhabitation of these places with “a more open and deeper consciousness” (p. 97).

The conceptualization of decolonization and reinhabitation not only emphasizes an ontological relationship but also “aims to enlist teachers and students in the firsthand experience of local life and in the political process of understanding and shaping what happens there” (Gruenewald, 2003, p. 620). In contrast, other forms of education that are attentive to place (e.g., geographical education or science education) may suffer from a tendency to ignore political dimensions because of a focus on a transmission approach to curriculum delivery and pedagogy designed to address individuals’ development of knowledge and skills for self-awareness.

Emerging Poststructural, Post-human, and New Materialist Pedagogies

In other areas of scholarship related to pedagogies of place, there are recent turns away from a focus on structural developmental views of the child in favor of understanding how children engage with a whole range of entities, relations (including with other species), forces, and materials found in their everyday worlds (for examples see Taylor & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2015). Both the “material turn” and the “animal turn” are now posing challenges to the perceived limits of the linguistic “turn” and the anthropocentrism of poststructural thinking (Taylor, 2018). Ontological responses to (post)structuralisms and other anthropocentric philosophies have resulted in realist (re)turns in social theory, in particular speculative realism and matter-realism or new materialisms.

Although there are many forms of post-humanism (see Pederson, 2010), they share a perspective that dissolves the separation of nature and culture. Quinn (2013), for example, argues that “fixed distinctions between human and non-human spheres no longer hold ….. [as] nature and culture are ‘mangled’ together at every point …. as ‘the agency of matter is intertwined with human agency’ (Hekman, 2010)” (Quinn, 2013, p. 738). Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw (2015) credit the boundary-blurring “natureculture” bio-philosophies of Haraway for illuminating “the ways that humans and other species share entangled, cascading and enmeshed pasts, presents and futures” (p. 6). Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw argue for moving away from the predominately individual child-centered pedagogies in early childhood education that focus on “learning within an exclusively socio/cultural (in other words, exclusively human) context (Rogoff, 2003)” (Taylor & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2015, p. 6). Instead Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw (2015) argue for focusing:

on the collective manners and means through which children learn from engaging with other species, entities and forces in their immediate common worlds. We call these collectively engaged modes of learning ‘common world pedagogies’ (p. 4).

Thus, new kinds of place-responsive pedagogies are emerging, such as multispecies pedagogies and more-than-human pedagogies (see

Critics of the post-human turn, such as Paul James (2017), suggest these kinds of pedagogies may be less well grounded, lack impact when it comes to politics and ethics, and fail to deliver their hope for getting beyond the dualism of nature and culture. James (p. 36) cites Snaza and Weaver’s argument that “it is not even remotely possible at the present moment to conceptually or practically lay out a theory of post-humanist education or outline the contours of a post-humanist pedagogy.” Perhaps because this field is emerging and nascent, an identifiable tendency in environmental and early childhood research has thus far been not to offer orientations for practice for nature-based post-human educators but rather to use research to describe the ongoing flow of events for learners in natural settings. Hence one emerging gap in nature-based post-human pedagogies appears to be a coherent research-based framework for educators to draw upon in the planning and enactment of place-related curricula. Another issue relates to how extant and emerging place-related pedagogies handle the political in their approaches. Without attempting to lay out a theory of post-humanist pedagogy, we briefly examine pedagogies of place that claim to take politics and ethics (of Indigeneity and equity) seriously.

The Political

In a recent study of experience-based place-responsive pedagogy in Environmental Education Centres (EECs) in Queensland, Australia (Renshaw & Tooth, 2018), a political dimension to teachers’ work was identified. An analysis of center case studies revealed that the political varied across places from being explicitly articulated to more implicit with different aspects emphasized in different ways (Stevenson & Smith, 2018). For example, Stevenson and Smith (2018) observed that a conceptualization of “pedagogy as advocacy” reflected an explicitly political statement of the environmental goals of one EEC’s work, while an “Inspiring Champions” approach at another center encouraged students to model their future behavior as adults on environmental champions of the past. At two other EECs, students are introduced to the work of local environmental activists who have played and are playing significant roles in protecting from development land having ecological and Indigenous cultural history values. Meanwhile, the pedagogy at several other centers is not explicitly political but implicitly addresses the political through not only exposing students to alternative (to the dominant anthropocentric) worldviews but also questioning and critiquing traditional understandings of economic growth, consumption economics, and related cultural values and the environment.

Yet a question that can be asked about the role of politics in pedagogies of place generally is are politics only aspirational at best in these and other educational endeavors? Certainly, the political needs to be more than aspirational while not advocating a particular position on a socio-ecological issue, despite the title of “pedagogy as advocacy” of one center’s approach in Tooth and Renshaw’s study. We argue that the pedagogical focus should be on advocating the engagement of young people in first critically thinking about local socio-ecological issues, including unpacking and understanding the politics and ethics that are an inherent part of the different and conflicting interests and perspectives involved in socio-ecological issues. Second, active engagement should be encouraged in the political process in order to respond to such issues.

Others, such as Pederson (2011) and Quinn (2013), encourage a “re”human positioning in accepting that post-humanism works to decenter the human subject, and so the implications for learning are profound if we can develop an “understanding of what it means to learn with and from rather than about nonhuman animals” (Pederson, 2011, p. 20). Quinn reports on two studies, first referring back to her earlier study with colleagues of finding young people in jobs without training that “animals played a surprisingly large role in the lives of some young people” to the extent that “[i]n some cases, the emotional attachment to animals was far greater than that to humans and ease and comfort with animals contrasted to estrangement from family or peers” (p. 745). However, Quinn, while acknowledging the importance of Barad’s (2003) foregrounding the nonhuman and the potential of such a perspective for liberation, appropriately cautions that:

going too far down that road hides the fact that the intra-activity of human and nature is still shaped by social positions. We are all composed of matter shared with the non-human, but we are not all equally well placed to deal with any potential problems this may cause. (Quinn, 2013, p. 749)

Quinn’s (2013) second study gives a greater sense of what role nonhuman animals play in young people’s everyday outdoor learning:

Animals teach the young people about the continuum of culture/nature and the necessity of balance and equilibrium. Of course this is very far from being an equal relationship; whilst Bennett might argue that animals have power and agency they do not have guns and traps with which to kill humans. Nevertheless, once the animal is given its due, a different form of knowledge emerges about factors which are key to the survival of humans, such as the chain of production and where our food comes from. (Quinn, 2013, p. 746)

Some poststructural and new materialist researchers take strong and distinctive political stances with respect to nature and place on the basis of new relational ontological framings. As we have seen, positioning animals as beings with whom we relate and learn repositions the natural world away from being something we save or steward as humans to being an entangled set of processes within which we need to interact and respond (see Taylor, 2017). Others take a strong feminist and decolonial stance (Nxumalo, 2015). These kinds of research agendas in effect try to combine critical ideological readings of place and nature while combining them with an ontological turn toward lived experience, process, and relationality. However, there is a tension between critical theory which situates politics and inequalities in social structures and feminist post-human ontological focus on relational politics.

Pedagogies of Place in Teacher Practice

Post-human research agendas seek to understand complexity and stay with the “trouble” of our damaged world with our commodified lives and the intricacies of educator-animal-child relations (Nxumalo & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2017). Less common is practical advice for educators about how to help actualize pedagogies to realize these new relations or ecological and social justice. Quinn argues that the outdoor literature emphasizes practice, but theoretical positions are not very well developed, while “[c]onversely, in post-humanist feminist literature, there is much theoretical discussion about ‘nature’…… Her paper seeks to use post-human ideas to advance theoretical understanding of outdoor learning and to put post-human theory to work with empirical data from outdoor learning, in order to demonstrate post-humanism’s analytic capacity….. to deepen understanding of outdoor learning” (p. 739).

Mannion et al.’s (2013) theory of place-responsive pedagogy draws on findings from a study they conducted of teachers devising interdisciplinary curricula while based in national parkland in Scotland. They explain:

We see place-responsive pedagogy is one element in a wider process of curriculum making that emerges through the intra-activity (Barad, 2007) of: (i) educators’ own experiences and dispositions to place, (ii) learners’ dispositions and experiences of place and (iii) the ongoing contingent events in the place itself (including the presence and activities of other living things). (p. 803)

Five key aspects of an experience-based pedagogy in Queensland state-run Environmental Education Centres (EEC) in Australia were identified by Ballantyne and Packer (2008, 2009) as learning by doing, being in the environment, addressing authentic tasks, cultivating sensory engagement, and exploring local problems and issues. In a follow-up in-depth study, conducted by Renshaw and Tooth (2018), place-conscious pedagogies were identified as requiring “that educators have an intimate knowledge of the ecology and history of the place, including an acute awareness of the pedagogical affordances of specific sites ….. (forest or creek or tree or track)” (p. 10). One center educator describes blending the application of systems thinking to the complex patterns and connections among the parts of the forest, with a process of slow pedagogy and a (nonlinear) experience-reflection-representation cycle of engaging students in sharing, questioning, and inquiring into their discoveries of specific inhabitants of the forest (e.g., a leaf or insect). A view of place as a dynamic socially constructed site of “negotiation between related unfolding stories” (Renshaw & Tooth, p.3) underpins this pedagogical content knowledge that links together deep content and pedagogical knowledge (Stevenson & Smith, 2018).

Diverse pedagogies of place, as framed in Tooth and Renshaw’s study, represent pedagogical content knowledge in nature-based experiential teaching (Stevenson & Smith, 2018). Specifically, that means knowledge and understanding of “the unique affordances of particular places for learning about, in and for the environment” (Stevenson & Smith, 2018, p. 195). Such knowledge has been argued by Tooth and Renshaw as involving the intersection of three dimensions of place:
  1. 1.

    The materiality of place itself, its unpredictability, and its unique patterning of inanimate objects, natural features, and animate beings

  2. 2.

    The cultural meanings that have been storied into the place by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, including the educators at each center

  3. 3.

    The agency of teachers, students, and parents, whose purposes and goals selectively foreground and background what can be experienced and learned in place (Renshaw & Tooth, 2018, p.4)


These illuminations of the pedagogies of place of experienced outdoor educators are consistent with evidence from Mannion et al.’s (2013) study suggesting first that, particularly for “novice outdoor” teachers, collaborative planning visits, extended time in natural settings, and opportunity for reflection were all useful ingredients in planning nature-based excursions. These approaches enabled teachers to find new scope to rework their own perspectives of themselves as educators such that place and material context were not backdrops to their actions but the new socio-material context was implicated in curriculum planning and later in teaching. For these teachers, spending time in the nature reserves involved getting to know the place and themselves better; through this reconnaissance, they looked again at what role the materiality of the world would play in their pedagogies and in their plans for the generation of new meanings with their learners. In part, this may be because of the design of the study in that it asked them to consider place as part of the curriculum design process, but this is expected to be a wider phenomenon common to more than this context. This strand of analysis provides empirical support for the potential of considering curriculum design as a socio-material and embodied practice in places.

A number of scholars have reported that curriculum planning with place in mind was easier for teachers who had spent time accruing a deeper relationship with the natural places visited (see Mannion et al., 2013; Martin, 2004; Renshaw & Tooth, 2018). More expert outdoor teachers were able to explain how they did this more comprehensively, while novice outdoor teachers found they needed to learn new dispositions or orientations to place. Drawing on the work of anthropologist Tim Ingold, evidence is emerging that supports the idea of curriculum making as a coming together of teachers, learners, generations, and places, and, through this coming together, relations are remade (see also Ross & Mannion, 2012). One might suggest that changing the place for education (in this case, from indoors to a natural setting) was a form of interruption in the ways in which the curriculum was normally socio-materially assembled. There is scope, therefore, for understanding curriculum making as requiring a form of interruption through new forms of attention and response to place.

Ross and Mannion conclude that their sense is that place-responsive teachers need to explicitly attend to the role of the places – the socio-material contingent events and relations between humans and other species – in their educational endeavors. In place-responsive pedagogy, teachers (in collaboration with students and others), as historically embodied subjects, explicitly set out to create new place-based practices and place-based relations. We suggest that this involves learning to dwell or inhabit places differently while accepting our shared immersion in the world (see Ross & Mannion, 2012). In summary of the literature cited, given “the unique affordances of particular places for learning in, about and for the environment” (Renshaw & Tooth, 2018, p. 4) and the significance for teacher pedagogical practice of educators’ own experiences and dispositions to place (Mannion et al., 2013), the first essential task for teachers is “being present in and with a place” (Wattchow & Brown, 2011, p. 800) through extended collaborative planning time in natural settings (Mannion et al., 2013). The purpose is for educators to get to know themselves and the materiality of place itself better through reconnaissance; this would include having the opportunity for reflection on what role the materiality, including living things, of place can play in their pedagogies and in creating plans for the generation of new meanings with their learners (Mannion et al., 2013; Renshaw & Tooth, 2018). A particular feature of teacher and student learning is the power of place-based stories and narratives (Wattchow & Brown, 2011) for identifying and creating “cultural meanings that have been storied into the place across time” (Renshaw & Tooth, 2018, p. 4). An enabling condition is for teachers, students, and parents to have the agency to enact the above curriculum and pedagogical planning (Renshaw & Tooth, 2018). This agency is relationally enacted with and through places in order it seems to maintain the necessary attentiveness to one’s emplacement.

Introducing the Section Chapters

In any discussion of pedagogies of place, the ultimate important question is what can the educator do? How can research and theory contribute to helping educators decide what to do next in a given place? The authors in this section not only articulate their ontological positioning in relation to the theoretical perspectives outlined above but also generally identify pedagogical approaches that can be taken by educators. Thus, a strength of the following chapters is that they offer guidance or directions for practice that can make a difference. Furthermore, many authors in this handbook section base their accounts on the empirical as well as the theoretical. As previously mentioned, it is important that the teaching and learning process is pedagogically and ontologically connected.

We now offer a brief overview of each of the seven chapters in this section of the handbook. The culturally and geopolitically diverse studies that are reported were conducted in seven countries: Australia (2), Germany, Hong Kong, Qatar, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Julia Truscott, in her chapter in this section “Towards a pedagogy for nature-based play in early childhood educational settings,” explores how young children experience nature through nature-based play and the influences on such experiences, particularly within an early childhood (EC) setting. Drawing on sociocultural and Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory and qualitative data from preschool children and their educators, educator pedagogy emerged as the strongest and most critical component of Truscott’s study of the interplay between children’s experiences and educator pedagogy. Truscott explores the facets of pedagogy – educators’ values, beliefs, and behaviors – that appear to best afford children opportunities to become immersed in their nature-based play in EC settings.

Ron Tooth and Peter Renshaw, in their chapter titled “Children becoming emotionally attuned to “nature” through place-responsive pedagogies,” raise the interesting question, “can children situate themselves as not separated from “nature” but as part of “nature”, emotionally interconnected with other living, as well as non-living, entities?” They analyzed children’s representations of “nature” and themselves following an excursion to a forest in South East Queensland, Australia, where they were exposed to Ron Tooth’s storythread designed program of a civic activist in the 1990s who was crucial for establishing the area as a protected reserve. Their connection to place is mediated throughout the excursion by an Aboriginal practice of attentiveness to and feeling in place. The children shifted toward an understanding of “nature” as agentic, knowledgeable, emotional, and bonded to them. The authors address the implications of this place-responsive pedagogy in the context of neoliberal times and accountability pressures for teachers.

In the chapter “Towards decolonising nature-based pedagogy: the importance of history, sociocultural and socio-material context in mediating connectedness-with-nature,” by Chesney Ward-Smith, Lausanne Olvitt, and Jacqui Akhurst, the authors explore children’s “connectedness-with-nature” in a culturally diverse context in South Africa. They argue that nature-based pedagogies often project Eurocentric environmental values onto children in subtle ways, inadvertently colonizing natural spaces and children’s experiences in them. Taking a sociocultural perspective, the chapter draws on a qualitative case study of 37 children from culturally diverse backgrounds at an outdoor education center. The chapter explores the tensions and resonances between participants’ value positions and those of the outdoor education center. Given that this interrelationship mediates the children’s developing sense of connectedness-with-nature, integrating their values was found to be essential for designing appropriate nature-based pedagogies. Such pedagogies are seen as providing opportunities for more nuanced explorations of sociocultural and socio-material resonances and contradictions and for children to connect with nature in less colonizing ways.

Bob Coulter, in his chapter “The role and limits of agency in place-based education,” focuses on developing a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities involved in fostering youth agency. He first critically examines conceptions of agency that are often implicit in descriptions of place-based education and emphasizes the need for better articulation of the ways in which meaningful agency among the participants can be supported. An analytic framework is derived building on both Greenwood’s (2013) three questions for grounding place-conscious learning deeply within local ecological and cultural space and Fesmire’s (2010, 2012) descriptions of ecological and moral imagination; Coulter argues that Fesmire offers tools through which thoughtful responses to Greenwood’s questions can be developed. A series of vignettes are presented to embellish the framework, and a set of educational principles are derived in order to guide the support of children’s agency within place-based education. The author concludes with reflections on the power of a process of grounding our ecological and moral imaginations deeply in our local space when we consider the role of student (and teacher) agency in place-based education.

Sarah Urquhart and Oliver Picton’s chapter “Place, experience & identity for Third Culture Kids” begins by making a case that traditional assumptions and conceptualizations of a singular localized sense of place are incongruent with the experiences of, what they term, “third culture kids” (TCKs) who spend their developmental years in multiple and diverse physical, cultural, and social contexts. They reexamine the concept of sense of place through two case studies in international schools: (1) a quantitative examination in Hong Kong of differences in place attachment and relationships to nature between TCKs and local adolescents and how relocation has influenced TCKs’ sense of place and (2) a qualitative exploration of how the “gatedness” of residential contexts in Qatar impacts adolescent TCKs’ experiences of place and sense of place. The authors argue that immediate contexts are intrinsically linked to the diversity of places experienced by TCKs which presents both challenges and opportunities for place-based pedagogy in international schools that needs to be undergirded by relational conceptualizations of place and driven by an inclusive and globally minded sense of place for TCKs.

Elsa Lee, Nicola Walshe, Ruth Sapsed, and Joanna Holland in “Artists as Emplaced pedagogues: How does Thinking about Children’s Nature Relations Influence Pedagogy?” take a more forthright approach to considering the role of teachers in linking learners to nature. The authors explore within the chapter how female artists working with children are seen to follow young people’s lead, yet also have input in taking children to new kinds of places. For the authors human exceptionalism sits uneasily yet catalytically alongside ecologically integrated views of the human-environment dialogue. Key to the pedagogy here is the link to an ontology that includes the actual and the virtual aspects of becoming – what we are and how we are becoming within nature are in constant dialectical conversation. Into this space, we have a worthy inquiry into what role teachers need to take in striving for new norms for human-environment relations. Part of this work involves imagination of the next generation.

Doerte Martens, Claudia Friede, and Heike Molitor, in their chapter Nature Experience Areas: Rediscovering the potential of nature for children’s development, argue that healthy childhood spaces are under threat and “nature” offers a solution. Furthermore, according to the outcomes of their study, childhoods are seen as increasingly less autonomously managed by young people themselves. With urban dwelling on the rise and consequent less contact with nature, there is a decreased time spent in physical activity and more time with technology. In this context, local natural play areas can afford a safe, accessible action space for children’s autonomous play wherein they benefit from greenspace experience – in terms of mental well-being, physical activity and literacy, social development, and learning through play. Of note is how the play value of natural settings is shown to be more diverse but also significant in the palpable sense that children really enjoyed the opportunities to play in hugely diverse ways; natural settings also provided affordances for fruit picking when in season and finding places for adventurous activity as well as places to retreat at times from the busyness of the world. Rooted in a quite humanist concern for child development, nature as a key agent is not a lost figure in this chapter.

Advancing the Characteristics of Pedagogies of Place

The seven chapters encompass research studies conducted in seven countries in a diverse range of different kinds of nature-based places, including (declining) natural play areas in urban settings, a park or nature reserve on the outskirts of a major city, nature-based play in early childhood education, a gated residential complex, and an outdoor education center in a culturally diverse context. They share an emphasis on place as a prerequisite for experiencing the nonhuman world by treating place as a way to understand children’s entanglements and connections with and care for the living and nonliving world of nature. Table 1 summarizes the characteristics of pedagogies of place identified and discussed in the section chapters. The purpose of this table is to illuminate the materiality of particular places and their unique pedagogical affordances for learning about, in, and for nature (Renshaw & Tooth, 2018).
Table 1

Characteristics of pedagogies of place


Tooth and Renshaw

Urquhart and Picton



Martens et al.

Lee et al.

Ward-Smith et al.

Name of pedagogy (as per author/s)

“Storythread” pedagogy

Global sense of place

Agency-supportive place-based education

Nature-based play

Nature experience as a form of place-responsive pedagogy

Place-responsive participatory pedagogy

Nature-based decolonized pedagogies

Intent of the pedagogy

To engage children’s senses and emotions and to build their agency in a place-responsive pedagogy (not treating a natural place as simply a site to conduct nature inquiries)

To be inclusive by concurrently capturing inward/current (local) and outward/previous (global/international) childhoodnature experiences and perspectives of place

To build agency and develop childhoodnature connections

To build children’s agency to become fully “immersed” in nature-based play leading to childhoodnature connections

To enhance young children’s childhoodnature connections through daily contact with natural environments through play that is embedded in children’s learning experiences

To build children’s agency and connections to the outdoors and non-human nature

To create transformative nature-based learning processes that lead to the development of childhoodnature connections

Features or characteristics of the pedagogy

Pedagogical storying strategies, especially of emotionality and Indigeneity, to cultivate enduring interconnections with nature

Pedagogies that are inward and outward looking, including local and international perspectives that connect to students’ lived experiences

Strategies to build childhoodnature agency and identity development through connection and imagination

Strategies to build childhoodnature connections through nature-based play in early childhood education everyday green spaces

Local natural play areas afford a safe, accessible action space for children’s autonomous play wherein they benefit in terms of mental well-being, physical activity, literacy, social development, and learning

Posthumanism perspective leads to particular pedagogical strategies: e.g., One Minute Maps, Found Mapping

Pedagogies that are decolonizing, ethics-led, and embodied

What are the new contributions to pedagogies of place?

Storying pedagogies that treat children as having agency, being knowledgeable, and emotionally bonded in relation to nature

Lived experiences of “third culture kids” mean a pedagogical need for an inclusive and globally-minded concept or sense of place for these children

Enhanced understanding of ways to build childhoodnature agency: student (and teacher) agency should enable grounding ecological and moral imaginations deeply in local space

Educators’ understanding of how children experience nature-based play and their related pedagogy influences children’s positioning along a continuum of connections to nature (from immersion to backdrop)

Expansion of concept/understanding of place-based pedagogies beyond formal human-human education, e.g., how we design public greenspace is a key part of the childhoodnature pedagogy “landscape” (literally and metaphorically)

Pedagogical role of striving for new norms of human-environment relations, including imagination of the next generation, with a constant dialectical conversation between what we are and how we are becoming within nature

Decolonizing, ethical, and embodied nature-based pedagogies should address potential tensions and resonances between participants’ and educators’ value positionings

Despite these differences in context, as well as in age group of children involved (e.g., Coulter 7–12 years, Truscott 2.5–5 years), a number of common themes are evident across the chapters, particularly in regard to the intent and focus of the pedagogies of place. First, however, a not surprising recurring theme is that of the need for connecting (or reconnecting) children to nature (Coulter; Lee, Walshe, Sapsed, & Holland; Martens, Friede, & Molitor; Tooth & Renshaw; Truscott; Ward-Smith, Olvitt, & Akhurst). Notwithstanding the risk of continuing the nature child binary that this handbook sets out to disrupt, an assumption of most authors is that children are disconnected from nature, resulting from fairly recent modern phenomena (of, e.g., urban expansion, loss of community, heightened concerns about children’s security) that should be addressed urgently in this time of the Anthropocene by reconnecting children to nature. The benefits for children of pedagogies of place, argue one group of authors (Martens et al.), include mental well-being, physical activity, literacy, social development, and cognitive learning.

All chapters expand and/or challenge current understandings and/or preconceptions of place, nature, childhoodnature relationships, and pedagogy. For example, rather than seeing pedagogy as a human-human endeavor, Martens and her co-authors conclude by implying that a more-than-human frame can be used to understand wider place pedagogies (beyond formal education). An example might be how we design public greenspace as a key part of the childhoodnature pedagogy “landscape” (a landscape both literally and metaphorically). The intent would be to harness the nonhuman into the affordances for play and learning – which fits a place-responsive pedagogy rubric or perspective at a material end of the continuum. Truscott identifies, from her study of nature-based play in early childhood education, children’s positioning along a continuum of connections to nature, from immersion to (material) backdrop.

An important reminder of starting from children’s lived experience is provided by Urquhart and Picton. A singular localized sense of place is revealed as incongruent with the experiences of “third culture kids” (TCKs) who spend their developmental years in multiple and diverse physical and sociocultural contexts. The authors argue that immediate contexts are intrinsically linked to the diversity of places experienced by TCKs; this presents both challenges and opportunities for place-based pedagogy in international schools that needs to be undergirded by relational conceptualizations of place. More broadly, Urquhart and Picton draw on the work of Somerville and Green (2015) and argue as they do that “as a conceptual framework, place provides a bridge between the local and global, real and representational, indigenous and non-indigenous, and different disciplinary approaches” (p. 36). They also point out the need to move beyond a singular and conventional understanding of sense of place, acknowledging the work of Massey (1994), who has argued in the past that “the character of a place can only be constructed by linking that place to places beyond. ……What we need, it seems to me, is a global sense of the local, a global sense of place” (p. 156).

Part of lived experience for some children is a cultural history of colonial domination. In their chapter in this section Ward-Smith, Olvitt and Akhurst propose “a potentially transformative triad of decolonising, ethics-led and embodied nature-based pedagogies to address calls for nature-reconnection in this context.” They define decolonizing pedagogies as “approaches to teaching and learning that help learners to recognise and disrupt the structure and powers of colonial influences on their lives and in their communities.” Drawing on McGregor (2012), Ward Smith et al. argue that the purpose of these pedagogies generally is “to re-centre indigenous ways of knowing, doing and relating, and support change-oriented, agentive responses in the world.” Ethics-led pedagogies, the authors explain:

engage explicitly and reflexively with the values and ethico-moral positions that people bring to each situation and seek to create challenging but safe spaces for learners to have ever-deepening conversations about what matters to them, why, and how that affects others, now and into the future. (Ward-Smith et al.)

One important theme emerging in four of the chapters including those of Tooth and Renshaw, Coulter, Truscott, and Lee et al. is that of agency. There is a consistent current across these four chapters of enabling children the agency to own and collaboratively lead (with teacher guidance) their own learning and that this is critical for building childhoodnature connections. When considering teacher agency, which is key to teachers having the kind of role envisaged in place-responsive pedagogy, Coulter emphasizes the power of a process of grounding students’ ecological and moral imaginations deeply in local space. Lee et al. argue that the development of new norms of human-environment relations should include imagination of the next generation with a consistent dialectical conversation between where we are now and how we are becoming within nature.

This grounding in children’s imaginations coheres with Somerville (2010) who argues that place exists in both a material and imaginative sense. The role and importance of imagination can be traced back to Dewey who argued that it is the medium for realizing and appreciating values (Elliott, 2007). Renshaw and Tooth (2018, p. 12) propose that as well as imagining how a place was represented in the past by others, we can consider “how it might be re-inhabited and re-imagined in the present and future through emergent stories.”

Embodied learning is identified by several authors as an important characteristic of pedagogies of place. Drawing on Somerville’s (2010) notion of embodiment, Tooth and Renshaw argue that we come to know through the body by walking, touching, smelling, hearing, or sensing in place – but embodiment demands openness to the materiality of the landscape and its agency in shaping what we come to know. Urquhart and Picton acknowledge aligning with Massey (2005) in their understandings of place as relational and involving an unbounded and negotiated process. They add that the meaning of place to the TCKs they studied, drawing on the work of Cele (2006), revealed an emotional relationship dependent on the body, “an embodiment that is even more significant for children who often experience the landscape in more physical ways than adults through outdoor play and exploration.”

In addition to embodiment, our relationship to place is constituted in stories (Somerville, 2010). Tooth and Renshaw, in their chapter in this section, describe their experiences in using a pedagogical storying strategy, storythread, to evoke children’s emotional attachment to nonhuman species and the materiality of a specific special local place. They emphasize the critical role of children engaging with animals (birds, insects) and landscape (the forest) as a pathway for children to recognize that the animal and non-animal material world has agency along with themselves. Yet the challenge of enabling children’s agency, as Martens and her co-authors point out, is exacerbated by childhood being seen as increasingly less autonomously managed by young people themselves, while Ward-Smith and her colleagues argue that nature-based pedagogies often subtly project Eurocentric environmental values onto children. Lee et al. delineate the role of teachers in connecting students to nature from observing the work with children of female artists who “follow young people’s lead” but also take initiatives in taking “children to new kinds of places.” Expanding on Lee et al.’s approach, four pedagogical design principles to guide the support of children’s agency are offered by Coulter: age-appropriate youth control, continuous development of skills and dispositions, nurturing interest and commitment through connection, and fostering depth through enhanced interest.

It could be argued that what is missing explicitly from the chapters is a coherent account of agency that, from a post-humanist perspective, captures a way of seeing agency as shared beyond the human to the other material living and nonliving objects. Further insights could be gained from exploring how such agency plays out when it comes to pedagogy with/in/or through the material/nature. Also omitted is much account of how collective agency might be exercised. Duhn (2012, p. 100), characterizing “pedagogy-of-place-as-assemblage,” argues that a de-centered learner and distributed agency based on a post-human or more-than-human perspective shift attention “from the individual child to the child’s entanglement with forces and forms of all sorts, both human and more-than-human” (Duhn, 2012, p. 104). Mulcahy (2012, p. 21) adds that thinking of pedagogy as assemblage opens up a sense of collective responsibility:

for developing and maintaining them [pedagogical relations] are similarly distributed and heterogeneous. This opens up a range of processes that form possibilities for a variety of elements to participate and create effects. The workings of bodies, technologies, texts and teaching desire come into view.

Bowden (2015) suggests a Deleuzian or “assemblage” conception of agency is compatible with a view that humans do have intentions and act in the world but that this world – we can read natural world – is full of forces and affective relations with nonhuman animals and other things. A cautionary note should be added that relational views of agency do not need to distribute agency to the extent that humans have not got an important pedagogical role to play.

The key point of the post-human new materialism worldview is that the materiality of the landscape has agency which is intertwined with human agency (Hekman, 2010) and thereby shapes what children learn about/in/for nature. Simply stated, post-humanism brings matter to the forefront in a way that can deepen understanding of outdoor learning (Quinn, 2013). However, the ontological turn asks for something more than a “worldview.” For educators, it is not about getting the ideology exposed (akin to critical place-based education/pedagogy of the last century) before you teach about nature experience per se (although materials are important), it is how materials and discourses are attuned to, in and through the pedagogy, in the planning, in the enactment, and in the outcomes of nature-based place learning. In other words, as Somerville (2010) argues, a thoroughly relational ontology is not a view from any “where” that is not a place. What is important, one pair of the contributors argues elsewhere, is that the core process of teaching and learning is both pedagogically and ontologically linked to create a praxis of pedagogies of place (Renshaw & Tooth, 2018).


Much literature over time has argued constructively for why place, especially natural place, is an important pedagogical site in which the child can explore nature, including their own positioning as part of nature. The chapters in this section represent an effort to explore how childhoodnature can be pedagogically enabled with a focus on new materialist approaches that offer a new ontological lens. Further, to some degree, the chapters explain what the outcomes or effects are in embodied ways for lived experiences through encounters with other species and the materiality’s of place. In Quinn’s (2013, p. 739) words, the contributors to this section have used “post-human ideas to advance theoretical understanding” of nature-based learning,” while most have also used these ideas to work with empirical data on this learning, “in order to demonstrate post-humanism’s analytic capacity” (op cit, p. 739).

The contributors portray place itself as (re)constructed and experienced by children and teachers in which pedagogies are perhaps best summarily captured by Urquhart and Picton’s citation of Ruitenberg’s (2005, p. 218) concept of a “radical pedagogy of place” which is “a pedagogy of ‘place’ under deconstruction, a pedagogy that understands experience as mediated, that understands the ‘local’ as producing and being produced by the trans-local, and that understands ‘community’ as community-to-come.” Further, according to Ruitenberg, students are encouraged to see the diversity of conflicts over interpretations of place for which there are no correct answers, as well as the meanings of the place in the past and the openness to future interpretations and constructions of meaning.

Based on our limited review of some of this literature and the contributions of the seven sets of authors, there may remain a need for future empirical research to understand the:
  1. (a)

    Outcomes and effects for diverse groups of learners experiencing diverse kinds of pedagogies across different kinds of outdoor natural settings

  2. (b)

    Inputs in particular contexts educators need to provide to facilitate desired outcomes (e.g., sustainable lifestyles, physically active citizens, knowledgeable conservationists)

  3. (c)

    Planning and policies at a system level for nature-based places (parks, greening, school grounds, etc.) that are needed as the population lives more and more in cities



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert B. Stevenson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Greg Mannion
    • 2
  • Neus (Snowy) Evans
    • 3
  1. 1.The Cairns Institute and College of Arts, Society and EducationJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia
  2. 2.School of EducationUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK
  3. 3.College of Arts, Society and EducationJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Bob Stevenson
    • 1
  • Gregory Mannion
    • 2
  • Neus (Snowy) Evans
    • 3
  1. 1.The Cairns Institute and College of Arts, Society and EducationJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia
  2. 2.School of EducationUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK
  3. 3.College of Arts, Society and EducationJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia

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