Sustainability by Default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education

Arjen E.J. Wals*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, based on a keynote address presented at the 68th OMEP World Assembly and International Conference held in Seoul in July 2016, it is argued that children are more in tune with sustainability than most adults and that both adults and children can benefit from intergenerational dialogue and expanded learning opportunities in so-called ecologies of learning. The idea of growing up in the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch that is shaped by one single species, home sapiens, is introduced. What does growing up in the Anthropocene mean for today’s children? A short critique is provided of the neoliberal forces that increasingly influence what happens in education and care settings and that essentially make unsustainability the default in our society. Drawing on Martin Buber’s ideas of relational ways of being in the world; Nell Nodding’s notions of care; and George Siemen’s ideas about learning ecologies, some suggestions are offered for co-creating early childhood education and care with people and the planet in mind.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-164
JournalInternational Journal of Early Childhood
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Childhood
  • Connectivism
  • Early childhood education
  • Ethic of care
  • Learning ecology
  • Sustainability


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