Nurture with Nature: Effects of Nature Learning on Children’s Activity Preferences and Animal Knowledge

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown

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This study examines children’s affinity for the outdoors based on participation in a six-month nature-based science enrichment program for preschool children. We explore the relationship between nature exposure, children’s active outdoor preferences, and their understanding of animals in the local environment. Previous research evaluated children in 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 11th grades and showed that the optimal time to encourage compassion for animals was between 2nd to 5th grade, and students between 5th and 8th grade showed the greatest cognitive gains in animal knowledge (Kellert, 1984). Children experience large cognitive gains in preschool and we expect that greater interaction with the natural world will encourage children to enjoy active outdoor activities and promote knowledge of animal species. Participants were recruited from local preschools based on grant funding from the Kellogg Foundation and the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway (ODCMG) in Holland, Michigan. Participants were 229 males and 207 females ages 3-5 years old. Activity preferences were evaluated using an adaption of Leary’s (2009) Preschool Activity Preference measure that distinguishes children’s preferences for sedentary indoor and active outdoor activities using a self-report item and 19 pairs of images. Animal knowledge was assessed using an interview developed by the ODCMG that includes Michigan native and non-native animal species. Completeness of outdoor learning environments at preschool sites were compared by the percent of the grant budget used. Expected outcomes will be that greater preferences for active outdoor activities will correlate positively with correct animal identification. We expect that children who participate in nature-based learning will show greater preference for outdoor active activities and increased accuracy identifying native animals at the conclusion of the program. Outcomes of this study will show the effectiveness of the nature-based science enrichment preschool program and guide recommendations for future planning.


This research was supported by the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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