Research Summary

A journey to children's perceptions on forest fire through drawings in Canakkale Province, Turkey: Exploring the needs for alternative educative approaches

Children’s drawings show low forest fire perceptions in Turkey

Applied Environmental Education & Communication

Forests are essential habitats for plants and animals, but also play a critical role in fighting climate change because of their ability to store massive amounts of carbon. When forest fires occur, the carbon stored in these trees is released into the atmosphere, and the fire itself can harm animals and humans in the area. One way to fight forest fires is to raise awareness among the general public, specifically children. This study analyzed the forest fire perceptions of children in Turkey based on drawings they created after hearing a forest fire scenario. More specifically, the researchers wanted to know if the children had enough background knowledge about forest fires and if they knew how to put them out, if various characteristics (school, gender, grade) impacted children’s perceptions of forest fires, and what other ways to teach children about forest fires should be implemented.

This study took place in Turkey from 2016 to 2017 in the Canakkale province, which is an area prone to forest fires. The participants were 435 students in 2nd through 5th grade from both public and private schools. The students were given a scenario about forest fires and were asked to draw their imaginations about the theme. The scenario was developed by the researchers, art teachers, principals, and forest fire experts. The scenario is from a child’s perspective where the child and their family go on a walk in the forest and see some smoke. The child’s father calls someone to report the smoke and the child wonders who he called and why. After the students were given the scenario, they had a class period to complete their drawings, with assurance that it would not be subjected to grading.

The drawings were visually interpreted and coded. Data analysis integrated school type (public or private), gender, and grade level. The forest fire experts came up with a list of 20 items (including trees, helicopter, and watch tower) that the children should have included in their drawings that would demonstrate maximum understanding of forest fires. Each item included in the drawing was given a value between 1 and 10 and used to calculate the drawing score. Based on the score, perception levels were classified as very low, low, moderate, high, and very high.

The most drawn items from the list were fire effects (fire and smoke, etc.), trees, water resources, firefighting officers, and animals. The least drawn items from the list were fire cautions, pumper (fire truck), picnic/camping area, bush/grass, and “ALO 177” which is a slogan that forest fire professionals in the area use. The researchers also found that 89.7% of the children did not draw a cause for the fire.

Overall, the researchers found that the perceptions of forest fires of the children in this study were not up to the desired level for their ages. Out of the 435 drawings, 130 of them were at the “very low” perception level, 282 were are the “low” level, and 23 were at the “moderate” level. None of the drawings were in the “high” or “very high” levels. The researchers found significant difference in perception level between public and private school-educated participants. They also found that the majority of “low” and “moderate” level drawings came from girls, while the majority of “very low” level drawings came from boys, although both boys and girls had the majority of their drawings classified as “low” perception. When comparing grade-level and perception, the researchers found that the majority of children who made up the “moderate” level of perception were 2nd graders, while 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders mostly made up the “low” and “very low” levels of perception. This was attributed to higher levels of imagination in younger children.

This study had limitations. The levels of perception were determined by a list of items created by forest fire professionals, but there could have been items that were relevant to forest fires not included in the list and the standards of the list could have been too high. Additionally, there have not been other studies on children’s levels of perception on forest fires, so there is no other data to compare the answers to. The children’s’ knowledge was only measured using their drawings, so drawing abilities/interest could have impacted the results.

Based on the limited perceptions of forest fires that children reported in this study, the researchers recommend that schools focus more on teaching children about forest fires and how to prevent them, especially if the schools are in fire prone areas. Place-based activities that increase students’ environmental sensitivity and awareness are recommended methods to teach these topics. More specifically, the researchers recommend developing an educational-themed environmental park that could be used to teach children about environmental problems, including forest fires.

The Bottom Line

Forest fires destroy habitats and release carbon into the atmosphere. To fight forest fires, the public needs to be more aware of preventative actions. This study analyzed 435 children’s perceptions of forest fires in Turkey. The researchers wanted to know if the children had enough background on forest fires and prevention, if various characteristics (school, gender, grade) impacted their perceptions of forest fires, and if there were other ways to teach children about forest fires. The children were given a forest fire scenario and asked to draw what it brought to their minds. The researchers measured perception based on a list of appropriate items to draw related to forest fires. Overall, the researchers found that the perceptions of forest fires of the children in this study were not up to desired levels. The researchers recommend that schools increase their focus on teaching about environmental disasters.