Engagerade i världens bästa? Lärande för hållbarhet i förskolan.

Ärlemalm-Hagsér, E.
Ph.d.-afhandling. Göteborgs universitet, Göteborg.


The objective of this study is to gain knowledge about pedagogical work on sustainability in Swedish daycare centres (förskola). The study focusses on how children perceive their kindergarten, and how these perceptions are being manifested in relation to learning and sustainability.


The study shows that pedagogical work on sustainability is considered an important task in the activities of the daycare centre, and that children participate in different activities in relation to sustainability issues, for example activities in relation to issues about social, financial and ecological sustainability. The document types studied (examination papers, applications and curricula) focus on the following themes: the child as an individual, children's relationship with other people, children's relationship with objects in their surroundings as well as children's relationship with nature. All the themes focus on the present, but are linked to the past as well as the future. Through these documents, the children are verbalised as agents of change who are to be trained to become good citizens ensuring a sustainable future. Children's encounters with nature and development of knowledge about nature compared with their respect and consideration for one another as human beings as well as for nature and the relationship with nature can be interpreted as a discursive consensus (i.e. a common understanding of the children's role in sustainable development, which is communicated similarly in the written material). Children's relationship with nature is linked to present and future development, health and well-being.

Overall the results suggest that present pedagogical activities are still marked by perceptions and ideas from previous times (when children's perspectives and thoughts were not considered equal to those of adults) together with more modern understandings of children, childhood and kindergarten as a place to express different political and practical agendas.

The study concludes that children of today are influenced by environmental problems and inequalities, and they feel the consequences of the political decisions taken. Therefore, the study recommends that pedagogical work on sustainability be challenged e.g. by recognising children's thoughts, ideas and initiatives, and thereby creating opportunities for common critical thinking.


The empirical material is collected through four sub-studies.

The first study focusses on 32 early childhood educators' perception of the sustainable development concept and the pedagogical practice in their work at daycare centres. This study uses texts on and documentation for pedagogical work on sustainable development as well as examination papers from a skills development course on sustainability held by Mälardalen University, Sweden.

The second sub-study examines pedagogical work with sustainable development at daycare centres and the ways in which young children are described as active participants in making change. This study uses applications from 18 daycare centres for a sustainable development certificate.

The third sub-study analyses the way in which young children are described and supported as active participants in Swedish national curricula compared with curricula from Australia.

The fourth and final sub-study analyses dialogues between children and early childhood educators in connection with thematic work on sustainability. The daycare centre was selected on the basis of the following criteria: a clear description of pedagogical work on sustainability, both from a child perspective and from several other perspectives such as social, financial and ecological perspectives on sustainability. The empirical methods in this sub-study consist of sound recordings of thematic work in the daycare centre, in which 17 children and two early childhood educators took part as well as two focus-group interviews with nine children.

The analysis is guided by a theoretical framework based on critical realism as well as on an ecofeminist perspective.


Ärlemalm-Hagsér, E. (2013). Engagerade i världens bästa? Lärande för hållbarhet i förskolan. Ph.d.-afhandling. Göteborgs universitet, Göteborg.

Financed by

The Swedish Research Council