jump to navigation

Place-based pedagogies in early childhood and primary school settings: Can they make a contribution to community sustainability? December 2, 2012

Posted by Seth Mortensen in Community Engagement, Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education.
Tags: , , , , ,

from Professor Karen Malone

Centre for Educational Research

“The future lies in our hands, so if you don’t educate us, the future generation, to look after the community, it will be a bad place” – Connor, aged 10.

Kevin Lynch (1977) in his seminal work Growing Up In Cities,  argued that adult and children’s knowledge of their urban environments correlated directly with their actual use and experience of places. Yet around the globe, there has been a significant shift away from providing opportunities for children and young people to experience and engage with their local environments (Malone 2007; Louv 2009).

This change, signified by many teachers and parents withdrawing their children from parks, streets and community facilities, is predominantly fed by a culture of fear, insecurity and litigation. This is in light of current childhood research that states by not allowing children to participate in the life of their communities, teachers and parents are denying children the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills and experience to be safe and confident to confront the challenges complex urban environments now present for them (Malone 2012; 2008; 2007).

Beyond the issues of competence there are also grave concerns for the health of children who for the first time in the history of Australia are likely to die younger then their parents’ generation, due in most part to poor health and obesity attributed in some part to their lack of activity during and out of school (Stanley et al. 2005).  In conjunction with questions around the quality of children’s environmental experiences there has also been growing debate around the relevance of what children are ‘learning’ in the classroom. There has been a call for a balance between what children learn and do inside classrooms using technology and text based content and what they could be exposed to, experience and contribute to outside the classroom in the real world (Malone 2008; 2007).

Place-based pedagogies

“I feel better about myself. I think that I can do more and I’m proud of myself” – Rachel, aged 8.

According to Michael Stone: “When people acquire a deep knowledge of a particular place, they begin to care about what happens to the landscape, creatures, and people in it.”  He believes place-based education is fundamental to schooling for sustainability. “Places known deeply are deeply loved, and well-loved places have the best chance to be protected and preserved, to be cherished and cared for by future generations” (2009, p. 13).  Smith (2002) also argues when schooling seeps into the realm of the real world, outside the classroom and students and educators become creators of a place based curriculum, “the wall between the school and the community becomes much more permeable and is crossed with frequency (and) it serves to strengthen children’s connections to others and to the regions in which they live” (p. 593–594).

Place-based pedagogies in education, rooted in environmental education and reclaiming place, the experience of place and the expression of place through a variety of visual and story telling methodologies has the potential to alter the conventional function of child care centres and school as it provides children with the capacity to regenerate and sustain changes in the way they come to be and belong in their communities (Malone 2012; Somerville et. al. 2011; Smith 2007; Gruenewald & Smith 2008).

Can what we learn make a difference?

“I liked it because we got to get out of the classroom and go to the site, it was more interesting than sitting in a classroom. I would do it or something similar again. It’s good for kids get to be part of it and make a difference” – Jack, aged 10.

Jensen and Schnack (1997) contend that while definitions of environmental action often focus on environmental outcomes, the educational aim of environmental action should be about children connecting to place and the belief that as citizens, young people should be and are capable of making a difference to their urban context.  The Dapto Dreaming project funded by Stockland was implemented in 2011 and 2012 and is an example of a project that has at its core an opportunity for children, through research, to have authentic input into designing a sustainable community. The project was implemented through a series of child-led place-based research investigations with 150 Kindergarten and Grade 5 children from the Dapto Public School using interviews, storytelling, photography, drawing, guided tours and field trips.

Children exploring place

Children exploring place

Stockland staff member listening to stories of place by Kindergarten children

Stockland staff member listening to stories of place by Kindergarten children

When asked informally to give feedback on their involvement in the project children responded with the following:

“I like being able to help, I was proud that we were part of the design of the playground and I am glad other kids and their families will get to play on it.”

“Doing stuff on the interactive board, going out onto the site, learning about the place from the Aboriginal elder. I am looking forward to seeing it all finished.”

“Learning outside helps us to understand our environment and our place in it.”

“I got to be part of it with my friends and I got to know more about how my friends feel about this place.”

“I liked that I got to help design the playground and the space around my place – now it feels like I own it somehow.”

“We will make sure our friends go down to the playground and make sure Stocklands build it the way they said they would.”

“I liked everything of the project and especially being creative and being outside in the community. I talked to lots of my friends about it.”

While the new urban site moves from a paddock to houses, children have taken on the ongoing role as urban sustainability ‘advisers’ to the developers. They have designed a playground that has already been opened in the new development. With staff, they have designed an environmental education program that involves exploring the Aboriginal and cultural significance of their place, identifying indigenous plants and areas of natural significance and tree planting. The school has also developed a sustainable transport project based through the initiation of a ‘walk to schoo’l campaign.

The real world is my classroom

“I want this suburb to be clean and safe. The playgrounds have to value the children that visit. It would be fantastic for the park to be surrounded by nature and for us to be able to keep visiting it during our class time” – Lachlan, aged 11. 

The success of the Dapto Dreaming project was due in part to the capacity for educators to be “willing to create partnerships and build bridges from schools to communities and communities to schools” (Malone 2009, p. 179).  The real world became the optimal learning environment. Through place-based pedagogies children addressed real community issues and were able to express their experience of their city as a multifarious, diverse environment where buildings, people and nature co-exisd both in simple and complex ways. It illustrates the possibilities for place-based pedagogies to be a catalyst to promote and support educators to open the doors of their classrooms so children can make a real difference in their lives and in the sustainability of their communities.

#The Dapto Dreaming children’s report of their investigations and the adult based report are both available from the author on request:  Karen Malone (k.malone@uws.edu.au)

References:    Gruenewald, D., and G. Smith. (2008). Creating a movement to ground learning in place. In Place-based education in the global age, ed. D. Gruenewald and G. Smith. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.    Jensen, B.B., and Schnack.K. (1997). The action competence approach in environmental education. Environmental Education Researcher, 3, (2), 163–78.    Louv, R. (2006). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.    Lynch, K. (1960). The image of the city, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.    Malone, K. A (2012). “The future lies in our hands”: children as researchers and environmental change agents in designing a child-friendly neighbourhood, Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, DOI:10.1080/13549839.2012.719020.    Malone, K (2007). The Bubble-wrap generation: children growing up in walled gardens, Environmental Education Researcher, 13 (4), pp.  513-528.    Malone, K. (2008.) Every Experience Matters: An evidence based research report on the role of learning outside the classroom for children’s whole development from birth to eighteen years, Report commissioned by Farming and Countryside Education for UK Department Children, School and Families, Wollongong, Australia.    Malone, K (2009.) Education for Sustainable Development, youth and new learning, or ‘would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ Blaze-Corcoran, P and Osano, P. (eds) Young People, Education and Sustainable Development: Exploring principles, perspectives and praxis, The Netherlands: Wageningen Publishers, 171-180.    Smith, G. (2002). Place-based education: Learning to be where we are. Phi Delta Kappan 83, 584–594.    Smith, G. (2007). Place-based education: Breaking through the constraining regularities of public school. Environmental Education Research 13: 2, 189–207.    Somerville, M., Davies, B., Power, K., Gannon, S. & de Carteret, P. (2011). Place pedagogy change. Netherlands: Sense Publishing.    Stanley, F., Richardson, S. and Prior, M. (2005). Children of the Lucky Country?  How Australian society has turned its back on children and why children matter,Sydney: Macmillan.    Stone, M. (2009). Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability, Centre for Ecoliteracy, Watershed Media.

Karen Malone is a Professor of Education in the School of Education’s Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Karen’s research project, Dapto Dreaming, which involves Stockland as partners, recently won two awards at the 2012 Planning Institute of Australia Annual Awards. It firstly won the Engaging with Children and Young People award sponsored by NSW Commission for Children and Young People. Karen and her team then won the prestigious Presidential Award for the best planning project for the year. UWS media has issued a press release on this story, which you can access at:



1. Place-based pedagogies in early childhood and primary school settings: Can they make a contribution to community sustainability? | News and information on primary and early childhood education | Scoop.it - December 3, 2012

[…] from Professor Karen Malone Centre for Educational Research “The future lies in our hands, so if you don’t educate us, the future generation, to look after the community, it will be a bad pla…  […]

2. Place-based pedagogies in early childhood and primary school ... | The Nature of Play | Scoop.it - December 3, 2012

[…] “I like being able to help, I was proud that we were part of the design of the playground and I am glad other kids and their families will get to play on it.” “Doing stuff on the interactive …  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: