Applying the Ecological Model to Explore the Influential Factors in Children’s Outdoor Recreation Participation


  • Paige E. O’Farrell Parks and Recreation Department, City of Sioux City
  • Hung-Ling (Stella) Liu Department of Health and Nutritional Sciences South Dakota State University
  • Christin L. Carotta Department of Counseling and Human Development South Dakota State University



Children’s outdoor recreation, ecological perspective in outdoor recreation, interpersonal influences in outdoor recreation, community and societal influences in outdoor recreation


Childhood is a key developmental period for important physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development. It can serve as a foundation for behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that carry into adulthood. In terms of outdoor recreation, existing literature denotes many childhood benefits and finds that children who participate in outdoor activities are likely to continue participation into adulthood. This paper uses an ecological perspective to broaden the exploration of childhood factors that contribute to youth participation in outdoor recreation, including interpersonal, community, and societal factors. Of particular importance are parental and family factors, suggesting that outdoor recreation professionals focus on family programming to foster sustainable participation. Adopting an ecological perspective also emphasizes the importance of creating community partnerships, supportive environments, and inclusive programming for diverse children and adults.

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Author Biographies

Paige E. O’Farrell, Parks and Recreation Department, City of Sioux City

Paige E. O’Farrell is a Recreation Coordinator in the City of Sioux City Parks and Recreation Department. She received her master’s degree in the Sports and Recreation Administration from South Dakota State University in May 2020. She also worked as a programmer for two outdoor education centers: the Dakota Nature Park in Brookings, SD and the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls, SD.

Hung-Ling (Stella) Liu, Department of Health and Nutritional Sciences South Dakota State University

Hung-Ling (Stella) Liu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Nutritional Sciences at South Dakota State University. Dr. Liu’s research focuses on the impacts of nature-based recreation on individuals’ social and psychological development and sustainable use of natural resources as community social, economic, and environmental assets.

Christin L. Carotta, Department of Counseling and Human Development South Dakota State University

Christin Carotta is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development, at South Dakota State University. Dr. Carotta’s research focuses on well-being, mental health, social and emotional development, and resilience.


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