Bush walking in Sydney
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Bush walking in Sydney – children’s sense of place in nature in an urban multicultural context from a teacher perspective. Emilia Fägerstam, PhD Candidate Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, Sweden

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Emilia f gerstam phd candidate

Bush walking in Sydney – children’s sense of place in nature in an urban multicultural context from a teacher perspective

Emilia Fägerstam, PhD Candidate

Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, Sweden

Department of Education, Macquarie University, NSW, Australia


Purpose of the study

Purpose of the study

Contribute to a deeper understanding of the meaning and relevance of nature encounters in an multicultural, urban, outdoor environmental education context.

The perspective of Environmental Education Centre officers and science high school teachers in Sydney.


Research questions

Research questions

What are Environmental Education Centre (EEC) officers and science high school teachers’ perceptions of children’s sense of place in nature in an urban multicultural context?

What role does school/EEC play in the development of children’s sense of place according to the teachers/EEC officers?


Theoretical background three related spheres

Theoretical background – three related spheres?

Nature experiences

Place theory– sense of place

What is the meaning of / How do we develop place attachment and place identity? (Altman and Low, 1993; Relph, 1976; Gruenewald, 2003)


Sense of place

Sense of place

A person’s cognitive, affective, and embodied understanding of a place that are cultivated through a living ecological relationship with the place (Lim & Calabrese Barton, 2010)


Data collection

Data collection

  • 13 semi-structured interviews with Environmental Education Center officers

  • 8 semi-structured interviews with high school science teachers

    Environmental Education Centers

    and high schools from

    different areas around Sydney.


Data analysis

Data analysis

  • Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Boyatsis, 1998)

  • Reading transcripts and Familiarizing with the transcripts

  • Generate codes

  • Search for themes and sub-themes

  • Review themes – thematic map

  • Define and refine themes – organize into a coherent and internally consistent account


Results three main themes of concern for the participants

Results – Three main themes of concern for the participants

  • 1) Children’s sense of place in nature

  • 2) Nature experiences and the role of school

  • 3) Challenges for outdoor education


Children s sense of place in nature

Children’s sense of place in nature

  • a) Authentic experiences

    -limited experiences for particularly migrant children but also Australian born children

    -excited students

    • “when they come here [migrant children and children born outside the area] they’re just blown away and just are so excited and so keen to learn everything about everything because they’ve just never been bushwalking and never been in this kind of environment and it’s all new to them” (Michelle, EEC officer in northern Sydney)


B compartmentalized environmental knowledge and understanding

b) Compartmentalized environmental knowledge and understanding

“ A lot of ours [native fauna] get lost. Forgotten about even if they’re integral to their experience or the ecosystem that they live in” (Nora, EEC officer)

“ I think kids of today are well informed about environmental issues and are very conscious of it yet I think they have less understanding of the world around them. /…/ The knowledge that we are all part of a system is missing today because of our way of living; we don’t feel we have a sense of belonging to the natural world.” (Simon, EEC officer)

  • “ I find Australian kids extremely ignorant of the natural environment and Australian plants and animals and of course students are coming here from overseas, well they’re probably used to seeing Indian mynas and common pigeons and sparrows and they come to Australia and nothing’s different” (Robbie, science high school teacher)


Nature experiences and the role of school

Nature experiences and the role of school

  • a) Place attachment and stewardship - goes together?

  • “ I want them to wonder, you know, develop this sense of wonder in children that hopefully will last them for the rest of their life, so that they don’t take this sort of things for granted and they also don’t fear the natural world. So they become familiar with it and familiarity means they wouldn’t be fearful of it” (Wendy, EEC officer)

  • “ I think our job is not so much to hit the gloom and doom button, and to feel like you’ve got to do it, otherwise you’re dead. It’s got to be appreciate it, love it and by producing those sorts of values, hopefully values in the students, then that sort of action will take place naturally” (Peter, EEC officer)


B environmental knowledge as a component of australian identity

b)Environmental knowledge as a component of Australian identity

  • “ So when they can see it, they understand what people are talking about and you know like laughing like a Kookaburra, when they see it, they can hear it and they can hear it laughing, they get it. And so, taking them outside and allowing them to see the different things that they might hear people talk about, or at least they know what is around them, and that gives them a sense of belonging I suppose because they know what it is and they understand but also gives them power because they have a little bit more control now” (Morgan, science high school teacher)


Emilia f gerstam phd candidate

c) Democratic aspect - school gives everyone an opportunity to visit natural and cultural places apart from the nearby neighborhood.

  • “ we take them to places that I don’t think they necessarily would go to/…/ I think it would improve their sense of place, in the Australian land” (Kathleen, teacher)

  • “So the concept of a national park being a place that they can come to visit again, because they’ve enjoyed being there once and so therefore they might want to go back and do the same thing” (Alex, EEC)


Challenges for outdoor education

Challenges for outdoor education

  • -Students’ fear and alienation

    -Lack of confidence, curriculum, safety standards

  • “Their whole idea of what the environment is about is alien and it doesn’t just apply to the migrant kids. /…/ probably the biggest challenge is letting the kids feel safe, safe and…happy” (Mark, EEC officer)

  • “When I talk to the teachers, they often find it difficult to…or they’re scared of working outdoors with their students. They worried about the fact that they’re not confined, that they may not have the same sort of discipline /…/ they don’t know how to use their environment within their school ground” (Cynthia, EEC officer)


Emilia f gerstam phd candidate

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