Psychology / Environmental Studies
Project title: Outdoor explorations with preschoolers: The role of nature experiences in young children’s psychological development and environmental awareness
Mentor: Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler
My main focus this semester was continuing and then finishing up data collection. I spent countless hours at my three data collection sites in Durham, NC. I am collecting data at Children First preschool’s garden and creek as well as at a local river. This spring, I collected data for 5 days at the creek, 9 days at the river, and 6 days at the garden. I also revised and resent the parent survey to collect at the end of the school year.
The other key focus was starting data analysis, looking at a subset of the data by focusing on teacher interviews, child interviews, and parent surveys. I was accepted to present a poster during SURF day, which gave me the opportunity to look at initial findings and contextualize the study for a larger audience. To summarize my SURF results: We discovered a shared context between parents, teachers, and children of valuing nature interactions. Parents recognize nature as important in their own lives and their children’s lives, providing an emphasis on nature at home. Teachers talk about the value of nature experiences, and the school provides nature play and education opportunities. Meanwhile, the children have multi-faceted support for direct nature experiences and talk about nature with increasing complexity over time. The preschoolers’ experiences will deepen and personalize their understanding of nature, helping to establish environmental stewardship. Together, the findings suggest that children’s understanding of nature is based on their direct experiences, supported by adult guidance and encouragement.
Dr. Ann J. Cahill
Professor of Philosophy
Spence Pavilion 111
2340 Campus Box
Elon, NC 27244
Phone: (336) 278-5703
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