Frequency of family-based nature activities in childhood is related to more time outdoors and a preference for outdoor environments in early adulthood

Izenstark, D. ., & Middaugh, E. . (2022). Patterns of family-based nature activities across the early life course and their association with adulthood outdoor participation and preference. Journal of Leisure Research, 53, 4-26.

This study investigated how childhood family-based nature activities (FBNA) may be associated with adulthood outdoor participation and preferences. For purposes of the study, FBNA refer to “childhood experiences in nature-based activities and/or outdoor recreation with a caregiver.”

Data for this study were based on online questionnaires completed by 349 undergraduate students attending a public university in the Midwestern United States. The questionnaire asked about the frequency and type of activities spent with parent(s)/guardian(s) in outdoor environments across five developmental age periods: early childhood, middle childhood, early adolescence, middle adolescence, and emerging adulthood. The questionnaire also asked students to share information about their current participation in outdoor activities and their preferred setting (indoor or outdoor) for leisure time. Demographic information collected through the questionnaires included age, gender, race/ethnicity, and mothers' and fathers' formal education level.

Results relating to frequency showed that FBNA was highest during early childhood and then significantly declined in each succeeding developmental period. Even though participants reported spending less time engaged in FBNA during middle childhood and early and middle adolescence, family outdoor time together remained important during these age periods. Frequency of participation in FBNA across the developmental periods was associated with a greater frequency of time spent outside and a preference for outdoor environments in early adolescence. This was especially true for FBNA during middle adolescence. Race/ethnicity was significantly associated with FBNA frequency, with white identified students reporting greater frequency than Asian identified students or students who identified with other ethnicities. Paternal education was also significantly associated with FBNA frequency, with higher education related to more frequent FBNA. Results relating to type of outdoor activities showed some differences by race/ethnicity, gender, and age. Nature-based activities were most common among white and Hispanic children. Asian-identified participants reported a higher level of local parks and green space use. Multiracial-identified participants or those of another less frequently represented ethnicity reported higher rates of engagement in social activities. Males engaged in more sports activities, while females tended to engage in more physical and water-based FBNA. Outdoor activities during early and middle childhood tended to focus on local parks and informal play. By early adulthood, outdoor activities tended to be more physical and social.

This research highlights the importance of FBNA across every developmental age period. For planning purposes, leisure professionals working with families should be aware of how age, gender, and race/ethnicity tend to influence patterns of FBNA participation.

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