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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Developing ecological identities and environmental consciousness : study of children's understandings and attitudes about nature during a 10-month environmental education program Estrada Alvarez, Laura Marcela


This thesis investigates children's perceptions of the natural world, and how their experience with one environmental education program has shaped their ecological identity and environmental consciousness. In order to examine children's understandings and attitudes about nature and the environment, I became a participant researcher in the Intergenerational Landed Learning Project (ILLP) at the UBC Farm during the 2005-2006 school year. The age of the children in this study was 9-10 years old. I employed a qualitative approach based on naturalistic inquiry and interpretation that aims to understand the context of lived experience. After the program finished, I chose to do an in-depth analysis of six children's experiences with ILLP at the UBC Farm based on semi-structured interviews collected. These interviews were complemented by recorded observations of particular activities at the farm, alongside my informal researcher journal. The value and significance of this study lies in the insights that the children's stories provide, and the many possibilities they reveal for educators interested in Education for Environmental Sustainability. My findings suggest that the students' experiences with the ILLP deepened their understandings about nature, and informed their attitudes about environmental sustainability. The study provides evidence that engaging the child in a local, place-based educational setting enables him/her to develop a stronger sense of place and nourish a strong connection to nature. The children developed more complex understandings of the environment and an empathic and compassionate relationship to the land and the people with whom they worked. They came to understand the importance of farms and local, organic food production through their experiences working with soil and cultivation. Their concern for the environment and their sense of responsibility toward taking care of it also grew stronger. The stories of these six children showed the importance of integrating emotions, understandings and practical skill development through experience with hands-on learning in the outdoors. The thesis offers an argument for the re-conceptualization of the ways we teach and learn about the Earth, and highlights programs like the ILLP, and places like the UBC Farm, as educational environments in which we are able promote education for environmental sustainability. It also provides examples of effective educational tools (such as Earth Literacy) that can help educators, parents and community members to enhance the development of children's ecological identity and environmental consciousness.

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