NATURE CONNECTION, OUTDOOR PLAY, AND ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP IN RESIDENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION

Open Access
Author:
Andrejewski, Robert G
Graduate Program:
Recreation and Parks
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
November 19, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Andrew Justin Mowen, Dissertation Advisor
  • Andrew Justin Mowen, Committee Chair
  • Deborah Lee Kerstetter, Committee Member
  • Rama B Radhakrishna, Committee Member
  • George Richard Vahoviak, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • Nature Connection
  • Outdoor Play
  • Residential Environmental Education
Abstract:
A lack of exposure to the natural world has led to a generation of children disconnected from nature. This phenomenon has profound negative implications for the physical and psychological well being of today’s youth. Residential environmental education provides one avenue to connect children to nature. One purpose of this study was to investigate the role of Outdoor School, a residential environmental education program, on ecological knowledge, children’s connection to nature, school belonging, outdoor play attitude, environmental stewardship attitude, outdoor play behavior, and environmental stewardship behavior, as reported by participants. A quasi-experimental research design was utilized in the study. A total of 228 fifth grade students (156 treatment, 72 control) from central Pennsylvania participated. The results of the program evaluation indicated that Outdoor School was successful in achieving significant, positive gains in the areas of ecological knowledge, connection to nature, outdoor play behavior, and environmental stewardship behavior. No change was found from pretest to post-test in outdoor play attitudes, environmental stewardship attitudes, and school belonging. Additionally, the study addressed gaps in the literature regarding the relationship between connection to nature, environmental stewardship, and outdoor play using two different approaches. An adaptation of the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) was used to predict outdoor play behavior in children. In this model, favorable attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control lead to intentions to perform a given behavior. Intention to perform the behavior is the best predictor for behavior performance. For this study, participants’ feeling of connection to nature was added as an affective independent variable. This model explained 45% of the variance in outdoor play. The hypothesis that a connection to nature would be a significant predictor of both attitudes toward outdoor play was supported by testing of the model. Finally, nature connection was tested as a full mediator of the relationship between outdoor play and environmental stewardship. There is support for the idea that direct experience in the outdoors facilitates environmental behaviors, but more research is needed to understand this relationship. Testing of the model failed to demonstrate that nature connection fully mediated the relationship between outdoor play and environmental stewardship; however, a feeling of connectedness to nature augmented the influence that outdoor play behavior exerts on environmental stewardship behavior.