Enabling the Wild Child: Measuring Child Sense of Place and Connectivity to Nature in Relation to a Park Experience
DeLong, Claire Marie
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Nature-deficit disorder is a condition termed by Richard Louv in 2005 to account for the disconnect from nature experienced by individuals, families, and communities in the developed world (particularly in a North American context). It has most notably been documented as a problem that afflicts today’s children. In finding a solution to this concern, an understanding of what connects children to natural places is necessary. Connection to nature is defined in the context of this research as an emotional bond an individual has with the environment (Jager & Halpenny, 2012). Increasingly more people live in cities with less nearby nature; consequently, parks have become more important in the role they play in exposing people to the natural environment. Sense of place theory explores the meanings and attitudes people prescribe to a place (Derr, 2001) and thus provides an appropriate theoretical framework for examining park attachment in children. This research seeks to understand what experiences in parks are most influential in fostering a sense of place and relate to a stronger connection to nature. This study followed a mixed methods design, using a survey tool in the form of a park activity booklet. The activity booklet contains both a sense of place and connection to nature measure, capturing children’s voice through writing and drawings. There were two levels of data collection and analysis. A pre-test was first conducted with families (N=7) to improve upon the usability of the instrument, selected through convenience sampling. The revised questionnaire was sent to schools in the Thunder Bay Catholic School Board where children ages 8-12 (N=460) completed the activity booklet in class while parents (N=133) completed the survey at home. Statistical nalyses were performed on the data using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. The qualitative written responses were coded to uncover resultant themes. The findings of this study conclude that allowing children unstructured time to explore the outdoors through imaginative play and nature appreciative activities is the best way to foster a connection to place. Further, sharing experiences with family members, and exploring natural features (e.g. lakes, forests, plants and animals) were most indicative of sense of place. This study has developed a means of measuring the relationship between children’s sense of place and connectivity to nature using one local sample population. It has provided insight on what experiences are most memorable in a child’s park visit and gives reason to believe children can make meaningful connections to a place they visit. This research has pragmatic implications for park staff, as it provides information on aspects within parks that foster an attachment to place and connection to nature, illustrating where efforts should be focused to increase family visitation.