University of Oulu

Ernst, J.; McAllister, K.; Siklander, P.; Storli, R. Contributions to Sustainability through Young Children’s Nature Play: A Systematic Review. Sustainability 2021, 13, 7443.

Contributions to sustainability through young children’s nature play : a systematic review

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Author: Ernst, Julie1; McAllister, Kerri2; Siklander, Pirkko3;
Organizations: 1Environmental Education, Applied Human Sciences, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, MN 55812, USA
2Environmental Education Graduate Program, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, MN 55812, USA
3Learning and Educational Technology Research Unit, University of Oulu, FI-90014 Oulu, Finland
4Physical Education, Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education, N-7044 Trondheim, Norway
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.9 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-07-27


Nature play with young children has been criticized for lacking the transformative power necessary for meaningfully contributing to sustainability issues. The purpose of this systematic review was to identify outcomes associated with young children’s nature play that align with Education for Sustainability outcomes, toward addressing the question of its contribution to a more sustainable future. A total of 272 citation records were screened using eligibility and quality appraisal criteria, resulting in 32 studies that were reviewed. These studies’ outcomes were coded and then mapped to an education for sustainability framework. Results suggest that nature play supports education for sustainability benchmarks of applied knowledge, dispositions, skills, and applications. The multiple and varied relevant outcomes associated with nature play suggest practitioners should not abandon nature play in the pursuit of sustainability. Implications for practice and further research are discussed.

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Series: Sustainability
ISSN: 2071-1050
ISSN-E: 2071-1050
ISSN-L: 2071-1050
Volume: 13
Issue: 13
Article number: 7443
DOI: 10.3390/su13137443
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 516 Educational sciences
Copyright information: © 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (