Research Summary

‘It’s not for people like (them)’: structural and cultural barriers to children and young people engaging with nature outside schooling

Structural and cultural barriers hinder the engagement of children and youth with nature outside of school time

Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning

“Nature capital’ is a term used by researchers in the UK in reference to the resources people have at their disposal for engaging with nature. The purpose of a related research project was to determine if children and young people (CYP) from disadvantaged backgrounds access the opportunities available to them during outside school time. The research also sought to identify challenges to participation and to determine how services might be improved to optimize nature engagement for this population of CYP.

Researchers gathered information from local providers of outdoor activities, national stakeholders, and CYP. Three main provider types participated: environmental organizations; community groups; and adventure and residential education providers. Eighty-two service providers completed a survey about their main aims and activities, sources of funding, socio-demographic characteristics of participating CYP, perceived barriers to engagement for CYP from disadvantaged backgrounds, perceived barriers to engaging these CYP for the organization, and strategies used to facilitate participation. Additional information was collected through service provider and national stakeholder interviews, and focus group discussions with CYP. The focus groups included CYP of different ages (between 8 and 20), race/ethnicity, and gender. They also included CYP from low-income families and – at least for one group -- children with learning difficulties.

Results showed four categories of nature engagement: outdoor learning; play; improving the natural environment; sports and exercise. Sixty percent of the providers identified the cost of activities and transport as the most significant barrier to participation by CYP from disadvantaged backgrounds. Providers also cited lack of relevance due to differing cultures, religions, and age of CYP. This lack of relevance was attributed, in part, to the lack of diversity in staff. There was also concern about not having a clear understanding of what is valued by youth. As suggested by the researchers, a “lack of congruence with the everyday experience of CYP from disadvantaged backgrounds” may have created a clash with program expectations. Providers also noted how societal judgements might impede CYP participation. Examples include concerns about getting dirty or allowing children to play outside alone. Other barriers to CYP participation include lack of awareness of what is available, fear of the unknown, “very limited neighbourhood public green spaces” in low-income areas, and safety concerns.

Action areas recommended for addressing the barriers include (a) research and communication (including eliciting voices of young people), (b) inclusivity (including offering a broad range of culturally and age-appropriate activities, and (c) funding (including conducting an audit focusing on how to maximize impact with limited finances).