This study is based on the concept of affordance, which refers to “the possibilities and restrictions emerging from the environment, which are perceived as functionally meaningful units.” The concept applies in this context to the relational approach used to explore how Finnish children, young people, and families engage with nature during outdoor leisure activities.
This research used two sets of data to analyze how children, young people and families interact with nature while camping and sleeping outdoors and how this affects their well-being. One data set is based on thematic writings of a group of Finnish youth, 15- to 21-years-old. The youth were asked to answer questions about their frequency of participation in outdoor activities during summer and winter. They were also asked to write or draw their most precious memory of nature. The other data set is based on one of the researcher's autoethnographic ﬁeld notes from camping with her family, participant observations from visiting young scouts camping in snow caves, and a focus group discussion with four camping mothers. In analyzing the data, the researchers focused on the relational aspects of encountering nature and on the interplay between young people and the environment and between families and the environment.
Almost two thirds of the participants indicated that their most common outdoor activities were walking, jogging, and spending time in nature. Engagement in outdoor activities was considerably more frequent in the summer than in the winter. Participants who considered nature important engaged in outdoor activities more than those who did not. There were some people, however, who considered nature important but did not participate in special outdoor activities. Almost 50% of the participants indicated that their favorite place was located in nature, with forest and lakeside areas being the most preferred natural environments. The benefits of engagement with nature for the young people included being able to calm down and getting away from the pressures of everyday life. Engagement with nature also afforded close interaction for families. Almost three-fourths of the youth who engaged in outdoor recreation and considered nature important had learned nature-related skills and knowledge from their parents and grandparents.
The relational approach used in this research indicates that “the more young people and families spend time in nature, the more they are able to perceive aﬀordances that enhance their well-being.” The relational approach also suggests that “rather than seeing young people's and families' relations with nature as subject-object relations, we need to be more aware of the diverse ways in which we relate to nature already.” Future research and policy should include a focus on how to support families' engagement with nature by providing increased opportunities (in regards to both time and place) for encountering nature. It's important to “not only build urban parks and playgrounds but also to preserve more natural environments that attract children to play and spend unstructured time with their families.”