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Effects of an Environmental Education Program on the Environmental Orientations of Children from Different Gender, Age, and Ethnic Groups

Lincoln R. Larson, Steven B. Castleberry, Gary T. Green

Abstract


Concerns regarding the profound physical, social, and psychological problems associated with childhood nature deprivation have catalyzed extensive growth in nature-based education programs. Recent environmental education (EE) initiatives and legislative measures, such as the proposed No Child Left Inside Act, have stressed the importance of EE in the formal education sector. However, out-of-school EE programs remain an appealing alternative to in-class science education. Non-formal programs provide children with a unique opportunity to experience substantial outdoor immersion and often influence affective development. These benefits suggest that an expansion of the depth and scope of non-formal outdoor programs is necessary to achieve the long-term goal of an environmentally literate population. Efforts to develop strategies for implementing and evaluating affective changes associated with EE programs could place a greater emphasis on the environmental orientations of children from different backgrounds. This exploratory study employed a new instrument, the Children’s Environmental Perceptions Scale, to investigate baseline differences in the environmental orientations of 133 six to thirteen-year old children from different gender, age, and racial/ethnic groups in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia. This study used a mixed-method, pre-test, post-test approach to examine the effects of a one-week EE summer program sponsored by the State Botanical Garden of Georgia on children’s eco-affinity, eco-awareness, and environmental knowledge. Responses of EE program participants were compared to a control group of students enrolled in local after-school programs. Brief personal interviews and open-ended evaluations supplemented quantitative survey data. Results did not reveal gender differences in baseline environmental orientations. However, eco-affinity levels were significantly lower in participants age ten or older. African American children also displayed significantly lower eco-awareness and environmental knowledge scores than white children prior to the EE program. Interviews detailing children’s unique interactions with nature yielded several possible explanations for these discrepancies. The EE program produced significantly higher adjusted mean eco-affinity and environmental knowledge post-test scores than the control group, regardless of gender, age, or race/ethnicity. The summer camp’s influence on eco-affinity, an affective component of environmental orientations that is difficult to alter, was especially encouraging. Fun and exciting concepts expressed through physical activity appeared to be a key component of effective EE programming. Overall, results suggested that non-formal EE programs in public parks and other recreation areas provide an ideal forum for stimulating positive environmental orientations in a diverse group of children and may generate future support for outreach efforts in underserved communities.

Keywords


Children, eco-affinity, eco-awareness, environmental education, environmental orientations, ethnicity

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