Preschool children's biophilia and attitudes toward nature: The effect of personal experiences
Preschool children are beginning to develop their own ideas about nature and their relationship with the natural world, regardless of their environment
Biophilia refers to humans’ innate need and propensity to affiliate with other living things. The aim of this study was to investigate possible differences between urban and rural preschool-aged children’s biophilia and attitudes toward nature. The researchers hypothesized that children living in a rural area would be more likely than children living in an urban area to demonstrate an understanding of the need to protect and respect nature. They also hypothesized that rural children would demonstrate a higher level of biophilia than urban children, due to the likelihood of children in rural versus urban environments having more exposure to nature.
Thirty-six preschool children participated in one-on-one structured interviews focusing on their attitudes toward and being in nature. Twenty-seven of the interviewees attended preschool in an urban environment (i.e., a city of over 54,000 people); nine attended a preschool in a rural setting (i.e., a town of 741 people). Two data-collection instruments were used during the interview: one measuring biophilia (the biophilia interview developed by Rice and Torquati); the other measuring attitudes towards nature (an adaptation of the conservation interview developed by Kahn). The interviews, which lasted from five to fifteen minutes, were recorded.
The quantitative data analysis — which included a comparison of responses of urban and rural children – revealed no significant differences in biophilia between the two groups of children. Additional qualitative analysis identified three common themes in children’s attitudes toward nature: 1) young children define nature by identifying specific elements; 2) young children are aware that their actions have consequences for the condition of the natural environment; and 3) children understand that the expectations guiding behavior in the natural environment apply to everyone.
These findings — while not supporting the hypothesis framing the study — are consistent with earlier research finding no relationship between the biophilic attitudes of preschoolers enrolled in programs with natural green spaces and those without a natural environment. These findings suggest that young children’s level of cognitive maturity and individual preferences may be better predictors of biophilia and attitudes toward nature than the environments in which they live and play. This research also suggests that preschool children are beginning to develop their own ideas about nature and their relationship with the natural environment. Parents and teachers are encouraged to recognize and support children’s evolving understandings about nature and their involvement in caring for the natural world.
Yanez, R.E., Fees, B.S., Torquati, J., (2017). Preschool children's biophilia and attitudes toward nature: The effect of personal experiences. The International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 5(1),