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The architecture of children’s relationships with nature: A phenomenographic investigation seen through drawings and written narratives of elementary students

Summary


Elementary school children self-report evolving strong positive connections with nature

This study sought to better understand developmental changes in children’s relationships with nature through their own, direct description. The research was conducted in 10 elementary classrooms in a semi-rural Rocky Mountain West community with 176 children, ages 6-11 (34 first graders; 37 second graders; 32 third graders; 38 fourth graders; 35 fifth graders). The authors applied a rigorous mixed-methods approach using qualitative data and analysis software.  Children were asked to draw and/or write about their relationship with nature in a 55-minute art class. Most of the drawings were also accompanied by written narratives. Each of the drawings was coded for the occurrence of certain objects or images and the frequency of these items were then statistically analyzed to understand grade level trends and differences between age groups.  Word frequency analysis was applied to the written narratives.

This study focused primarily on individual students’ relationship with nature while analyzing general trends among age levels – developmental stages were a particular focus. For many children, nature was a part of who they are as they did not view themselves as “separate from nature”.  The majority of the students presented their understanding of nature in a positive tone, using words such as “love” or “like” as they described their interaction in nature. Younger children often depicted themselves with family, friends and pets, while older children’s drawings often showed the child in solitude.  Child narratives that accompanied the drawings helped explain the context of the drawing, with many of the older children writing about how they felt “free” in nature, at peace, safe and protected.  One child’s drawing showcased in the article described nature as “my best friend”. These findings point to the importance of children developing a strong ecological or environmental identity. Additionally, the narratives from this study suggest that nature provides a safe haven for many of these children and space that can help them cope with life’s stresses.

 

Citation

Kalvaitis, D., Monhardt, R., (2012). The architecture of children’s relationships with nature: A phenomenographic investigation seen through drawings and written narratives of elementary students. Environmental Education Research, 18(2), 209 - 227.

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