This is the second edition of Young Children and the Environment, which was first published in 2010. It is revised and updated, with 7 new chapters including a section exploring sustainability education in a variety of global contexts. Its authors now come from across the world, although over half of them are still based in Australia and New Zealand, where interest and expertise in this topic is long-established. Three kinds of audience are identified: those studying early childhood education, child-care practitioners, and primary school teachers. The publishers say it is designed to promote ‘education for sustainability’ for children up to 8 years old.
The book is written as a practical resource to illustrate the difference that early childhood educators can make by working with children, their families and the wider community to address the significant contemporary issue of sustainable living. The book aims to provide readers with international resources and perspectives to further early childhood education for sustainability (ECEfS). The text focuses on new curriculum initiatives that have placed greater emphasis on educating for sustainability, and sets out to equip educators with the knowledge to teach this. The book contains case studies and vignettes and a series of what are termed ‘provocations’ (that is, questions) whose aim is to help readers gain insights into how ECEfS can occur successfully in practice.
Following an introduction, the book is divided into two parts. The first (11 chapters) follows the structure of the first edition, with the addition of three new chapters on food, on the arts, and on the need for a “transformative project approach” that supports children as active agents of change. The second part (5 chapters), sets out to provide an international perspective with new chapters from (and on) Japan, Sweden, South Korea and the UK. This book ends with a revision of the final chapter from the first edition.
There is considerable merit in this book, and the revisions have made a difference to its effectiveness. Purists may cavil at the loose way in which the word (un)sustainability is sometimes used, but that is now so commonplace that it seems pointless to complain. For example, in the scene-setting opening chapter, everything that is problematic seems to be ‘unsustainable’, whereas, in reality, social and economic systems that give rise to poverty, inequity and a lack of universal wellbeing, actually seem quite resilient and resistant to change. And, looking back, inequality and poverty seem the most sustainable (in its original sense) things of all.
The editor clearly understands the breadth and interconnectedness of the ideas that constitute sustainability, and that it is more than about ‘the environment’. However, she is still able to write: “Sustainability is essentially an issue of social justice and fairness.” But it’s not. It’s much more fundamental than this. Ultimately, it’s an existential question of human survival on the planet. Before that, it’s a question of trying to ensure that the planet remains able to support a good quality of life for all of humanity, now and into the future. Tackling unfairness and inequity whilst addressing fundamental environmental issues makes good strategic sense, as there are many gains to be had; tackling them with no view that the bottom line in all this is a healthy biosphere, does not.
For me, helping young people develop a reasoned sense of hope (which is not the same as optimism) that there is the possibility of a positive future for them, and for others, is crucial if they are to be empowered to get interested and involved. It is obvious that editor and authors share this view, and the book has positive stories to tell and useful practical and theoretical detail. I was particularly appreciative of the chapters by Sue Elliott, Robert Pratt, Sue Cooke, and Sharon Stuhmcke, but felt that there will be something in them all. For particular readers. And they were all pretty clearly written.
I think this will be a popular book, especially amongst those studying on early childhood education programmes who feel a need to know more about sustainability. Whether it will be a practitioner text is more of a moot point as it has not been designed and structured with that in mind. Nice to think it might be though.
Young Children and the Environment: early education for sustainability (Second edition). Julie M Davis (Editor); ISBN: 978-1-107636347; Cambridge University Press, 2015; pp 336; £45.00