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


The persons behind SUSTE

The SUSTE research team includes the following lecturers at the University of Helsinki:

  • Senior university lecturer Ann-Christin Furu (project leader)

  • Associate professor Hannah Kaihovirta

  • Associate professor Lili-Ann Wolff


SUSTE is also backed up by a reference group including:

  • Associate professor emerita Ingrid Engdahl from Stockholm University
  • Professor Tarja Karlsson Häikiö from University of Gothenburg,
  • Associate professor Mari-Ann Letnes from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

Welcome to the SUSTE blog! This first blog post shortly describes what SUSTE actually is

Researchers at the University of Helsinki develop sustainability learning for Early Childhood Education and Care


Sustainability has become a must in all education aiming at all age groups. However, most research focuses on sustainability education in schools. Especially in Finland, there is nearly no research in the field of sustainability in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). To fill this gap we, three researchers and teacher educators at the Faculty of Education at the University of Helsinki, decided to create the project SUSTE (Sustainable Stories in Early Childhood Education and Care). The focus of SUSTE is particularly sustainability in Finnish ECEC.

In Finland, there is nearly no research in the field of sustainability in ECEC. SUSTE strives to fill this gap.

The SUSTE project is not only a research project, but it is simultaneously an intervention project that strives to promote change in the learning environments and routines of ECEC settings, like nurseries and preschools.  Since the project team includes three university lecturers/researchers specialized in different teaching training topics, the project is also interdisciplinary in nature. Our expertize fields are a combination of language, narrative, aesthetics, science and philosophy. We employ all these fields jointly with sustainability as the foundation. Thus, we try to reach beyond the limits of the different topics and create a transdisciplinary understanding of sustainability education and learning.

The SUSTE project aims at professional development of sustainability competences among student teachers and staff in day care and pre-primary settings. A primary interest is to explore how sustainability competencies can be developed through multimodal storytelling in the context of ECEC. Hence, the focus of research is the mutual learning processes of the participating practitioners, student teachers, and researchers.

SUSTE has a primary interest in exploring how sustainability competencies can be developed through multimodal storytelling in the context of ECEC.

The project consists of three main parts. Firstly, we study how sustainability is currently envisioned and enacted in Finnish ECEC. Secondly, we arrange research circles, tutoring, workshops, and seminars for practitioners and student teachers. Thirdly, we empirically explore the learning processes during this complex professional development process.

The expected outcome of the project is of a two-fold nature. Firstly, it prompts the development of new sustainability theories and practices. Secondly, it enhances dialogues about sustainability education and learning between students, researchers and practitioners. Some student teachers in ECEC, for example, participate in the project by writing bachelor and master theses with sustainability education topics.

In this blog various people engaged in the SUSTE project communicate what is going on in the project and share the ups and downs that might occur during the joint learning processes in both words and pictures.  The blog is an open way to share experiences and actively create sustainability education in ECC. Therefore, by following this blog you receive insight to the progress of the SUSTE project. So, stay alert!

Christin, Lily & Hannah, March 6, 2019