Storytime in a forest hut – on the narrative of sustainability in Finnish ECEC












Around noon yesterday my Instagram feed provided me with a thought provoking post. I saw three children aged 3 to 5 sitting with their teacher by the fire side in a wooden forest hut. The picture was commented by a short phrase: “Storytime and rest while the coffee is boiling above the open fire” and the previous posts from the same day care setting gave me some additional information.The group (twelve children and two adults) had made a day trip, skiing a mile or so through the forest to the nearest hut. Considering the weather conditions (minus twelve degrees and a rather chilly wind from the north) this could be seen as a somewhat unexpected event for an ordinary Wednesday in March. However, in the morning, they had packed their Fjellpulken sledge with food, extra clothes, and other necessary items. By lunchtime, they had lit the fire in order to prepare some pasta and sausages. And now was the time for stories and rest – and some traditionally boiled coffee.

The picture evoked some of my own childhood memories. The smells, the sounds, and the light in a forest hut. The effort made to reach it by ski. The drowsiness after having a meal semi-outdoors. The tranquility of a forest draped in a thick and white layer of snow. The cosiness of sitting close to each other on a wooden bench in a hut, listening to stories. Memories of togetherness. Of moments that made sense.

The post also made me reflect on the narratives of sustainability in contemporary Finnish ECEC. What are they made of? Where can they be seen and how can they be understood? How are they made visible in everyday practices in ECEC settings?

Finnish national policy documents, as well as the Act on ECEC and the curriculum, all emphasize the child´s right to grow into ethical responsibility and a to develop competencies for a leading a sustainable life. All children should have equal possibilities to learn how to develop sustainability skills. All day care settings should be working by the principles of sustainability in all four dimensions (ecological, social, cultural, and economical) and ECEC should on the whole be part of the national commitments to Agenda 2030 and the Paris agreement.

However, young children do not care about policy documents or working cultures. They experience life in all its richness. They play and learn through their bodies. They hear, they see, they feel. They move, they talk, they imagine.  They grow as humans when they are nurtured by the gazes, words, and actions of other humans, young or old. They develop understandings of themselves in relation to other humans, but also in relation to other living creatures, and in relation to their cultural and natural environment; to buildings, artifacts, trees and birds and bumblebees. They create images of The Good Life, of basic values and ways of life (seemingly) worth striving for. Hence, the relations and values and ways of life do we afford the children in Finnish ECEC matter.

If you ask me, the core of sustainability in ECEC is embedded within the above post. It contains affordances central for sustainability education. It could be the opportunity to sense the icy wind of a winter day and the warmth of a forest hut. It could be the possibility to experience the effort of packing and skiing and the reward of story time and rest. It could be the opportunity to watch somebody light an open fire and cook lunch or boil coffee over it. Because at the very heart of sustainability lies a deep sense of belonging, of connectedness and of responsibility.

Could it be as simple and as challenging as that? That the narrative of sustainability in ECEC is one of being part of nature and part of culture, of being deeply connected to oneself as well as to others. No more, but also no less, than that.

Photo credit: Sarah Granlund


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