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Through the eyes of children: Drawings as an evaluation tool for children's understanding about endangered Mexican primates


Children’s drawings can be a powerful tool in guiding conservation programs

This research is based on the understanding that for conservation education programs for children to be effective, the design of the program isn’t the only factor to be considered. The design of the evaluation also plays an important role. The assessment activity used for evaluation should help identify a child’s level of awareness so that additional educational initiatives can build on what the child already knows and address goals not yet achieved.

This study used students’ drawings to evaluate children’s perceptions and knowledge of the black howler monkey, an endangered Mexican primate. Twelve schools in Southern Mexico and a total of 297 students participated in this study. Students (age 8-10) were given a sheet of paper with a howler monkey silhouette and asked to draw a picture indicating what this animal needs to live well. Approximately half of the students lived in urban areas and half in rural settings. Of the participating students, 50.8% were boys; 49.2% were girls. Some students (45.6%) lived in areas designated as “protected areas” (PAs) for the howler monkeys; others (54.4%) outside those areas.

Analysis of the drawings included an examination of how gender, geographic context (urban/rural), and residence inside or outside PAs might impact children’s perceptions and knowledge of the current conservation status of black howler monkeys. The researchers considered both content and structural perspectives in analyzing the drawings. For content, they considered how children’s drawings represented broader views of the howler monkeys and the conservation status of their habitat. For structural perspective, the researchers focused on individual parts of the drawing (e.g., food elements, physical descriptions of the monkeys, and human-related elements). The analysis also included categorizing children’s drawings into three levels of knowledge: no familiarity, basic knowledge, and sophisticated knowledge.

Less than 10% of the students’ drawings represented sophisticated knowledge of howler monkeys; 44.4% represented no familiarity, and 47.5% basic knowledge. Children living in the PAs were more aware of black howlers than children living outside the PAs. While there were little differences between boys and girls in their levels of knowledge, girls tended to humanize howlers more than boys. Children living in rural areas showed significantly more sophisticated knowledge about the black howlers than children living in urban areas. The children’s drawings – by not including diverse trees — support the idea of a shifting baseline syndrome, meaning that the children accept a degraded natural ecosystem as the normal state of nature.

This study supports the use of children’s drawings to help shape conservation education programs. This methodology can also be used in future research to gain a better understanding of children’s knowledge and perceptions about endangered species, so that conservation messaging might be more relevant to what they may or may not know.


Franquesa-Soler, M., Serio-Silva, J.C., (2017). Through the eyes of children: Drawings as an evaluation tool for children's understanding about endangered Mexican primates. American Journal of Primatology


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