A new study outlines just why there should be a concerted push to ensure children of all ages encounter the wonders of the environment and nature at an early age. This is especially true for children who grow up in urban environments, who tend to see nature as something either a long way off, or simply as a means to feed them.
Taina Laaksoharju from the Department of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Helsinki and Erja Rappe of The Martha Association, both of Finland, both wanted to find “out if it is true that children are not interested in plants or playing outdoors.”
They used a questionnaire of structured and open-ended questions to interview the relationships of 9- and 10-year-old Finnish school children to the environment and plants, focusing on two primary comparisons: children’s relationships with nature in rural and urban neighbourhoods, and preferences for plants among boys and girls.
Laaksoharju and Rappe interviewed 76 children: 42 in the Helsinki suburb area and 34 in a rural area.
The results showed, unsurprisingly, that children who lived in the rural areas of the country were more in contact with nature than those who were growing up in urban environments. One such example is that more rural children considered themselves “part of nature” than did urban children.
The researchers fear that, like children in other Western countries, Finnish children may be in danger of losing all contact and context with the natural environment. “This suggests that further research is essential to understand children’s experiences if we are to enhance the crucial role of the environment in their lives”, they wrote.
Girls were more interested in plants in general than were the boys, and were also more eager to learn about the plants than the boys. Boys, on the other hand, saw themselves as independent of nature, with more than 30% of boys responding that they could live without vegetation.
Fitting in a little more with the stereotype of boys and girls, boys viewed plants as meaningful mainly for their nutrition and general living conditions, whereas girls appreciated the beauty of flowers and plants.
“In the suburbs, closer connections to nature are rare; interventions in schools, especially outdoor horticultural ones, can help children to build their relationship to vegetation,” the researchers wrote. Such interventions would include horticultural lessons, based on remarks by the 9- and 10-year-old boys who, once again unsurprisingly, said they did not like lectures, but would enjoy working with plants.
“Learning by doing in an informal learning environment suits the kinesthetic boys better than sitting at a desk listening to a teacher. Horticultural interventions can be effective starting points to add to children’s knowledge, affection, and interest toward greenery, but it is highly recommended that they take place outdoors rather than indoors.”