Innovative evaluation shows improvement of five environmental education related outcomes in program participants

Garip, G., Richardson, M., Tinkler, A., Glover, S., & Rees, A. (2021). Development and implementation of evaluation resources for a green outdoor educational program. The Journal Of Environmental Education, 52, 25 - 39.

Spending time in natural settings has proven to be physically and psychologically beneficial for humans, and environmental education aims to reconnect youth to nature. However, it has become a reality that children and young people spend less time outdoors, which has been dubbed, nature-deficit disorder. The London-based Green Spaces, Learning Places (GSLP) creates opportunities for children to engage with their environment through interactive learning sessions in the United Kingdom's parks, heaths, and forests. The researchers in this study tested five participant outcomes to see if the GSLP was effective. These factors included: understanding, confidence, nature connection, wellbeing, and involvement (taking action for or getting involved with green spaces).

The GSLP initiative consists of three programs to get youth in their natural surroundings. 1) “School Programs” partners with local schools to take children on two-hour trips to explore London green spaces and nurture their creativity and investigating skills. 2) “Green Talent” where students who did not succeed in formal education work with practitioners through skill-building and group cooperation. Activities involving natural elements allow young adults to explore careers in the environmental sector. 3) “Playing Wild”, a set of sessions for children under five years old to play in a local park with their parents, exploring greenery and playing outdoors.

The study was conducted at 16 schools in London, United Kingdom between May and September of 2018. The study evaluated 504 children (ages 5-10 years) in the Schools Program, 54 young adults (ages 13-19 years) in the Green Talent program, and 11 children under five years old in the Playing Wild program. The researchers used a variety of quantitative and qualitative measures, including surveys, interviews, observations, and drawing activity conducted by GSLP practitioners. Researchers from a university and GSLP practitioners collaborated to create the assessment methods. Evaluation measures occurred before, during, and after completing program sessions. For the Schools Program, a survey, interviews, and observations were used. The survey included five questions, one question to measure each outcome, and were given before and after the program. Participants responded on a scale with four choices ranging from happy to sad emotions. Interviews were done with 18 children during programs and asked questions related to the five outcomes. Observations occurred with 62 children during programs and were conducted by recording behavioral indicators related to the five outcomes. For the Green Talent program, the same survey was used for all participants and eight participants were interviewed. For Playing Wild, children were asked to draw nature scenes before the session and were asked to draw it again six months later. Data for each program was analyzed for common themes and if changes in outcomes occurred after programming.

Results showed that, on average, there was a significant improvement among all five factors (confidence, understanding, wellbeing, nature connection, and involvement) from students in the School Programs and Green Talent program. Confidence had the greatest average improvement. The interviews with participants and observations highlighted and supported these results. Such as, children used positive words to describe the green spaces and how they felt in them, children described feeling safe in nature, and children engaged in activities that showed confidence. The Playing Wild group was evaluated based on whether their second drawings showed more nature-related depictions. The sample showed much more inclusion of environmental scenes between the drawing sessions, including more people engaging in nature. Overall, participants stated they would return to the programs and remain engaged with London's green spaces after participating in the GSLP programs.

There were limitations to this study. Because it was the first to evaluate this program in this way, the results and analysis were not comparable with any other studies. In addition, the researchers suggest some changes to the instruments used in this study to improve results. This study also does not consider the long-term effects of the School Programs and Green Talent programs.

The researchers suggest that GSLP programs are largely beneficial for children and young adults after the five outcomes were positively supported through the programs. The researchers also suggest using psychological assessments to help produce comprehensive results. The collaborative process between researchers and practitioners used to create these evaluation methods can serve as a model for other programs.

The Bottom Line

<p>Environmental education (EE) is increasingly necessary as nature-deficit disorder becomes more prevalent. Green Spaces, Learning Places (GSLP) provides programming for children and young adults between ages 5 and 19 years old as well as for children under 5 years old in the London area. They consist of three programs: School programs, Green Talent, and Playing Wild, that all aim to improve EE-related outcomes and highlight the importance of green spaces. The researchers used surveys, questionnaires, interviews, and drawings to identify improvements among the five common outcomes in EE: understanding, confidence, nature connection, wellbeing, and involvement. The study results showed the GSLP improved all five outcomes in participants. The researchers recommend this program and others like it continue to be sustained. Additionally, the creation and implementation of these evaluation methods can serve as a model for other programs.</p>

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