Stories of disruption: Using images to prompt children’s thinking and action taking for sustainability

Lyndal O’Gorman, Queensland University of Technology, Australia (

Background: Sustainability needs to be addressed through innovative educative approaches. Research has found that preservice teachers’ positive attitudes about sustainability and their desire to make a difference were prompted when they encountered confronting images depicting human impacts on wildlife.

Aim: This study explored how two educators employed potentially confronting images about sustainability in their work with children. 

Method: The two educators told stories and discussed the risks and benefits of sharing confronting images with children, shedding light on issues associated with disruption, risk, and children’s capabilities for action taking.

Results: Findings from this study contribute to conversations about the potential benefits of teaching strategies that challenge protective approaches to teachers’ work with children. The participants’ approaches share common ground and yet reflect the nuances of their different expertise and experiences.

Conclusions: These stories challenge researchers and practitioners to reconsider children’s capabilities for sustainability awareness and action taking. Images can send powerful messages about sustainability at a time when humanity needs to find new and urgent solutions to this global imperative.

Implications for children: You are ready to hear some important stories and to see pictures about how people are making a mess of nature. Teachers and children should talk about how we can start to fix up this mess.

Implications for families: It’s difficult to protect children from seeing confronting images such as floods, fires and pollution. You can have conversations with children in response to such images by taking a thoughtful, respectful and action-oriented approach.

Implications for practitioners: Sustainability is an important topic in early childhood education. Children regularly see images of humanity’s negative impact on the planet. You can help children address this topic by identifying the problem and responding with positive action. 

Key words: professionals’ voices, wellbeing, early childhood education, qualitative methods, sustainability

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