This study examined the effects of an outdoor education program on children's self-reported nature connectedness and their wellbeing. Nature connectedness is defined as “an affective or emotional attitude towards nature consisting of a sense of responsibility and empathy for, and unity with, nature.” For purposes of this study, nature connectedness was considered to be an important proxy for environmental behaviors.
Data for this study was based on survey responses from fifty British children (age 10-11) who participated in an outdoor experiential residential program for one week. The survey included three different measures: one focusing on competence, relatedness, and autonomy; one measuring hope; and the other a nature connectedness scale. In this study, "hope" has a connotation of self-confidence that they would be able to solve a problem. The children completed the survey at three different time points: approximately one week prior to their participation in the residential program (Time 1), midway during the program (Time 2), and approximately one month after their participation in the program (Time 3). This study considered only the responses from before and after the program.
Results showed significant differences between Time 1 and Time 3 for nature connection, hope, and competence. These results indicate that, after their outdoor education experience, children generally reported feeling a stronger nature connection, having greater hope, and perceiving greater personal competence than before the experience. There was no change in social relatedness. This finding differs from previous research documenting positive associations between nature-based activities and social interactions. This discrepancy may be due to the fact that the outdoor education program used for this study had an individualistic (vs. collective), competency-based focus. It may also be due to the fact that the survey items used in measuring relatedness may be too broad to detect change.
The overall findings of this study are consistent with other research documenting the benefits of outdoor education for impacting emotional environmental attitudes or nature connectedness. This research also provides some promising support for the impact of an experiential residential program on children's well-being.