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

Julie Ernst, Kerri McAllister, Pirkko Siklander, Rune Storli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


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 applica-tions. 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7443
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 2 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Early childhood education for sustainability
  • Early childhood environmental education
  • Forest kindergarten
  • Nature play
  • Nature preschool
  • Systematic review


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