Children’s understandings of sustainability-related topics and issues

Mia Christensen, Queensland University of Technology, Australia (

Background:  My study explored 6-8-year-old children’s broad understandings of sustainability.  While young children are acknowledged as being essential in addressing sustainability issues, their involvement in and views about this aspect of their world have often been neglected.

Aim: The aim of this study was not to find a singular way that young children understand the phenomenon of sustainability, but rather to describe it in terms of differences that define the phenomena from the perspective of a group of 6-8-year-old children.  This study explored and described the children’s understandings, expressed through their drawings and interviews, related to the concept of sustainability-related topics and issues.

Method: The methodological approach of phenomenography was used in this study and data were collected through children’s drawings and interviews.

Results: Six increasingly complex understandings of sustainability-related topics and issues emerged from the data, from that based on meeting the wants and needs of living things, through to innovative, problem-solving, globally connected approaches.

Conclusions: Young children are competent and capable research participants whose understandings reflect complex and multidimensional thinking related to sustainability.

Implications for children: You have provided ideas about what should be done to help living things across the world that will lead to big changes in the way lots of people will go about making the world a better place. Please keep sharing these ideas.

Implications for families: The children in this study discussed increasingly complex understandings in relation to the broad concept of sustainability that reflect the complex thinking they hold, remember to listen to their ideas and strategies.

Implications for practitioners:  For young children to participate in addressing their concerns and interests, we need to listen to their voices in authentic ways.  To capture their voices, we need to think carefully about the ways that we can provide them with access to complex concepts.

Key words: children’s voices, drawing-telling approach, education, innovations, phenomenography, qualitative methods, sustainability

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: