Planning programs around a nature-based literacy framework may promote child health while promoting ecological knowledge and stewardship

Barrette, M. ., Boyer, W. ., Naylor, P. J., & Harper, N. . (2022). Defining a nature-based literacy: A research synthesis review of health-promoting literacies to promote nature engagement. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning.

Research in education and health has started to recognize the value of non-traditional literacies in promoting health-related outcomes among children and youth. Related literature indicates that certain defining components of these literacies work together in a synergistic way to promote different aspects (cognitive, physical, and social-emotional) of human health. This study aimed to draw from this research base to define another type of literacy – that is, nature-based literacy – and to support the idea that becoming nature “literate” could promote the health of children and youth.

Researchers conducted a synthesis review of five empirically defined non-traditional literacies common in the health promotion literature: physical literacy, media literacy, health literacy, nutrition literacy, and ecological literacy. In comparing the empirical definitions of these five non-traditional literacies, the researchers identified four common components: motivation, knowledge, competence, and confidence. Of these four, two –confidence and motivation – were noted as being both a precursor t0, and an outcome of, acquiring several of the non-traditional literacies. These findings suggest that “confidence and motivation may be essential to enacting knowledge and skills, or result of acquiring knowledge and skills specific to each of these literacies.”

The researchers used the four common components of the non-traditional literacies to conceptualize, define, and describe a new nature-based literacy. They also proposed a set of capability domains in the areas of cognitive, physical, psychological, and social development as a practical way of re-engaging children and youth with the natural world. The focus of these domains – as related to nature-based literacy – is on nature-related knowledge, skills, and behaviors.

Operationalizing nature-based literacy through experiential nature-based activities consistent with the model proposed in this study may be helpful in addressing growing health concerns among children and youth, including physical inactivity and social-emotional issues. A focus on the different dimensions of nature-based literacy could also promote ecological knowledge and sense of stewardship among children and youth.

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