Handbook for teaching children about sustainability

Ann-Sofi Kall, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the School of Education and Communication (HLK) at Jönköping University (JU), together with researchers from Linköping University (liU), has produced a handbook of stories to support preschools in working with sustainability issues.

The trolls produced for the report. Illustrator: Emil Uhrqvist

The trolls produced for the report. Illustrator: Emil Uhrqvist

In the autumn of 2018, nine preschools in Norrköping launched a project to find new ways to work with issues of sustainability and transition. They took inspiration from the Reggio Emilia Institute, which in turn was inspired by the climate scientist Johan Rockström’s quote: “The world needs a new story”. When one of the researchers, whosechild was at one of the preschools, heard about this, the ball was set rolling. Everyone involved agreed that a collaboration in the form of a research project would be good in the light of the 2030 Agenda, but also because the preschool curriculum requires education about sustainability

Throughout the project, it has been important to the researchers that the work was carried out jointly with the staff at the preschools. The research application was also written with them, and the project was granted funding from FORMAS.

“We researchers have expertise in the environment and sustainability from slightly different angles, but the educators are experts on children and pedagogy. Therefore, close collaboration was not only important but a prerequisite," says Ann-Sofie Kall.

During spring/summer 2019, the project started properly. The research group initially consisted of project manager Therese Asplund, senior lecturer at LiU and Ann-Sofie Kall, senior lecturer at HLK. A little later in the project, Ola Uhrqvist and Simon Wessbo, senior lecturers at LiU, also came on board. The researchers, together with about 100 educators from the nine preschools, began to look at how to use stories to teach about sustainability. Based on their respective expertise, researchers and educators discussed both together and separately how stories can be used in sustainability education.

Creating the new narrative that the world needs

“We quickly realized that we wanted something concrete that preschools could really benefit from. This resulted in training material in the form of a handbook with tools for working with story-telling in sustainability education. We also created sustainability troll characters specifically for this," she says.

The idea is to provide a story-telling tool for preschools that creates a holistic approach to sustainability. Although the training material provides concrete tips and ideas, it requires commitment and active work.

“It is important to start from the particular circumstances of each preschool. Perhaps they already have a figure or a particular place that they already work with that can be woven into a story," says Ann-Sofie Kall.

The project was completed this winter and not only resulted in the handbook, but several scientific articles that were written in the framework of the project.

“In the article "What's the matter in education for sustainable development? How sustainability stories make matter matter as issues or problems" published earlier this year, we explore sustainability stories made by educators and children. “Sustainability Stories to Encounter Competences for Sustainability” from 2021 presents the EPOSEA model that we later use in the educational material and in the 2023 report', says Ann-Sofi Kall.

Illustrator: Emil Uhrqvist