”Pre-School Childrens Agency in Learning for Sustainable Development”.

Caiman, C.
Lundegård, I.
Environmental Education Research, 20(4), 437-459.


The purpose of this study is to carry out an empirical investigation of how kindergarten children recognise and experience their agency for change with regard to their outdoor environment. The children are observed in their outdoor environment in a situation in which they are being taught scientific topics relating to sustainability. More specifically, the study examines what happens when children are confronted with a problem and then come up with a solution to the problem by changing conditions in their outdoor environment at the kindergarten. The authors define agency as children's possibility to participate collaboratively and take control of their own activities in solving problems.


The study shows that, when confronted with a problem, the children work and act in four phases:
1) The group of children talk about the problem with concern. In the first example, the children are worried that some plants will drown due to the rain. In the second example, the children are worried about a bird's nest, which is too close to a noisy building site.
2) The children negotiate and discuss possible solutions, in one situation they ask an adult for advice
3) They continue to negotiate about possible solutions, which evolve into actual actions and they plan a solution to the problem
4) The chosen solution is refined, and a solution to the problem is found. The children make a cover for the plants, and the other group moves the bird's nest away from the noise.

The results of the study indicate that agency is something the children achieve together in their interaction with one another rather than an ability they already possess. Thus, on the basis of this analysis, the concept of agency should be expanded. Contrary to the traditional definition of agency, in which agency is considered an innate ability in the individual, this study shows that agency can also arise in an open-ended, contextual process, created in interaction between individuals – in this case children.


The data material consists of video footage of children aged 4-5 years at a kindergarten. The material was analysed on the basis of Dewey's theoretical perspectives, and describes the activities and actions of small groups of children and their approach with regard to solving a problem or carrying out an assignment. Two examples from the video footage were selected from a 15-hour-long recording at a medium-sized kindergarten in Sweden. The kindergarten has a pedagogical profile focusing on the physical environment and sustainability. In the two examples, the children carried out and solved the assignments/problems in 35 and 11 minutes, respectively.


Caiman, C. & Lundegård, I. (2014). ”Pre-School Childrens Agency in Learning for Sustainable Development”. Environmental Education Research, 20(4), 437-459.

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