Relationships between middle childhood outdoor experiences and an adult individual's knowledge of the environment
University of Kansas
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During the last several decades, the nature of childhood has changed. There is not much nature in it anymore. Numerous studies in environmental education, environmental psychology, and conservation psychology show that the time children spend outdoors encourages healthy physical development, enriches creativity and imagination, and enhances classroom performance. Additional research shows that people's outdoor experiences as children, and adults can lead to more positive attitudes and behavior towards the environment, along with more environmental knowledge with which to guide public policy decisions. The overall purpose of this study was to examine the effect of middle childhood (age 6-11) outdoor experiences on an individual's current knowledge of the environment. This correlational study evaluated the following potential relationships: 1) The effect of "outdoorsiness" (defined as a fondness or enjoyment of the outdoors and related activities) on an individual's environmental knowledge; 2) The effect of gender on an individual's level of outdoorsiness; 3) The effect of setting (urban, suburban, rural, farm) on an individual's level of outdoorsiness and environmental knowledge; 4) The effect of formal [science] education on an individual's level of outdoorsiness and environmental knowledge; and 5) The effect of informal, free-choice learning on an individual's level of outdoorsiness and environmental knowledge. Outdoorsiness was measured using the Natural Experience Scale (NES), which was developed through a series of pilot surveys and field-tested in this research study. Participants included 382 undergraduate students at the University of Kansas with no preference or bias given to declared or undeclared majors. The information from this survey was used to analyze the question of whether outdoor experiences as children are related in some way to an adult's environmental knowledge after accounting for other factors of knowledge acquisition such as formal education, media, and free-choice learning. Though a statistically significant positive correlation was found between an individual's NES and their level of environmental knowledge as an adult, the relationship was weak (r= .112). One-on-one interviews also were conducted with 15 individuals selected from a random sample of the 382 participants. A post-survey focus group comprised of experts from the fields of environmental science and environmental education was also conducted to discuss results from the quantitative portion of the study and provide face validity to the questionnaire.
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