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A multidimensional investigation into children's optimal experiences with nature

Summary


Children’s experiences with nature involve sensory, affective, cognitive and behavioral dimensions

The major purpose of this study was to deepen understanding of children’s interactions with nature. The study employed a framework that describes and analyzes children’s experience with nature in four dimensions: sensory, affective, cognitive, and behavioral.

The study setting was a public botanic garden with a sensory garden, a waterfall in a Japanese garden, treed and forested areas, and a butterfly pavilion. Five children between the ages of six and 10 years experienced the garden in a fixed sequence during a five-day camp. Semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with the children during their visits. The study used photographs, drawing, clay sculptures and sand tray pictures to elicit information and observations during the interviews with the children.

The results support the importance of children’s sensory and affective experiences in connecting with nature. No gender and age differences were found to influence children’s sensory experiences with nature. The children were engaged by new and different elements in their explorations, including seeing different kinds of butterflies and flowers, as well as exploring paths, rocks and waterscapes. The children in this study were influenced and engaged by the degree of novelty and challenge afforded by the environments they explored.  However, the level of challenge and arousal need to be controlled to achieve optimal experiences and may be accomplished successfully by the children themselves.

This study suggests that the senses may be a primary, foundational component of children’s experiences with nature. Engagement through the senses serves as the underlying link between contact with nature and children’s affective states. Cognition and behavior also emerge as important dimensions of children’s experiences with nature, but they seem to be secondary to the sensory and affective dimensions.

Citation

Linzmayer, C. D., Halpenny, E. A., Walker, G. J., (2014). A multidimensional investigation into children's optimal experiences with nature. Landscape Research, 39(5), 481-501.

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