The key to enhancing children's connectedness with nature may be a focus on nature itself

Bruni, C. M., Winter, P. ., Schultz, P. ., Omoto, A. ., & Tabanico, J. . (2017). Getting to know nature: Evaluating the effects of the Get to Know Program on children’s connectedness to nature. Environmental Education Research, 23, 43-62.

Three separate studies investigated the impact of three different nature-related activities on children's connectedness with nature – that is the degree to which they perceive themselves as a part of the natural environment. The three activities -- Creative Arts Contest, Natural Treasure Adventure, and Virtual Hike -- are a part of the Get to Know Program which encourages direct connection with nature. For all three studies, the FlexiTwins version of the Implicit Association Test was used to assess participants' implicit connectedness with nature before and after participating in one of the three activities.

Study 1 assessed the effect of participation in the Creative Arts Contest which encourages children to gather inspiration from nature-based resources (such as, the outdoors, aquariums, natural history museums, etc.) to create an artistic project. One hundred and seventy-eight students from grades 3 – 6 participated in Study 1. Changes from pre- test to post-test scores indicated that active participation in the Creative Arts Contest increased students' connectedness with nature.

Study 2 examined the effect of participation in the Natural Treasure Adventure which involved an adult-led hike in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area in San Diego, California. While on the hike, the children were invited to find “impression stations” (small metal plaques depicting a specific plant or animal species) and make rubbings to document their findings. They were also encouraged to read background information on a map and to make notes of what they saw while on the hike. Changes from pre- to post-test scores for thirty-five children (age 6 – 16) participating in this study indicated that the Natural Treasure Adventure activity had no significant effects on children's connections with nature.

Study 3 examined the effects of participating in the Get to Know Virtual Hike which involved students in exploring and tracking their progress along trails presented on a website. The thirty-two students (age 7-14) who completed this activity and successfully completed the pre- and post-assessments showed no increase in their implicit connectedness with nature.

Of the three Get to Know activities examined in this study, only the Creative Arts Contest resulted in significant increases in implicit connectedness with nature scores. One aspect of this activity not present in the other two was a focus on nature versus a focus on built objects. In Study 2, the built objects were impression stations; and in Study 3, the students worked with the built framework of a website. These findings suggest that the key to enhancing connectedness with nature may be a focus on nature itself.

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