Research Summary

Nature-based environmental education of children: Environmental knowledge and connectedness to nature, together, are related to ecological behaviour

While connectedness to nature and environmental knowledge, together, promote ecological behavior, connectedness to nature is the stronger motivator

Global Environmental Change

Promoting environmental knowledge is a fundamental component of environmental education. Knowledge alone, however, is generally ineffective in directly influencing pro-environmental behavior to a desirable level. Nature-based environmental education (NBEE) is designed to address this concern. NBEE combines the transmission of environmental knowledge with the promotion of connectedness to nature. The aim of this study was to investigate the relation of children’s participation in NBEE to their ecological behavior.

The competence model of environmental education provided the framework for this study. This model is based on the understanding that intrinsic motivation -- by way of connectedness to nature – along with environmental knowledge, are required for promoting ecological behavior. Over three hundred 4th to 6th grade students at five schools in the city of Berlin completed questionnaires assessing their ecological behavior, connectedness to nature, and environmental knowledge. The questionnaire also collected information about the number of times they attended a NBEE center -- that is, an institution providing environmental education outdoors in a natural setting.

The Rasch model used to analyze the data tested the prediction that the number of visits to NBEE institutions positively effects ecological behavior by increasing both environmental knowledge and connectedness to nature. Findings indicated that increased participation in NBEE was related to greater ecological behavior, and that both environmental knowledge and connectedness to nature influenced pro-environmental behavior. Connectedness to nature, however, had a much stronger relationship to ecological behavior than environmental knowledge. Connectedness to nature explained 69% of the variance in ecological behavior; environmental knowledge, only 2%. Similar to other research, this study revealed a link, though weak, between environmental knowledge and connectedness to nature.

This study provides support for nature-based environmental education's potential to promote ecological behavior by fostering both connectedness to nature and environmental knowledge. The design of the study, however, does not establish causality of these relations. Further research is recommended to strengthen support for the pairing of environmental knowledge and connectedness to nature as complementary drivers of pro-environmental behavior.