Date of Award
Master of Science
Engaging children in natural settings enhances learning and promotes development while utilizing protected natural areas. However, many schoolchildren, especially from economically disadvantaged areas, lack support for environmental education (EE) to develop skills and attitudes to increase rates of appropriate, resource-protective behaviors. This causes resource degradation wherever children visit protected natural areas. Improved EE should reduce the amount of resource degradation when children visit natural settings. This project proposes a model program of replicable, low–cost, widely accessible critical thinking activities and materials designed to directly address this problem. The Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois, Camp Ondessonk, and Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge were partners in this project. The objectives were to create, test, evaluate, and disseminate tools for teachers in the form of a pre–visit program with three specific engagement methods to engage children in activities that cultivate critical thinking and encourage resource–appropriate behaviors. Original activities involving a discussion–based journal, handmade wristband, and interactive games were conducted during small–group interactive workshops at Camp Cedar Point in Makanda, Illinois and Camp Ondessonk in Ozark, Illinois (n=225). Pre/post program evaluations were administered, and camper behavior on a hike was observed. It was hypothesized that campers would shift towards a more pro–environmental attitude and exhibit lower rates of depreciative behaviors after any combination of activities than the control group of campers, and that a combination of all three methods of engagement would be the most effective approach in reducing depreciative behavior and changing attitudes towards resource protection, by addressing multiple motivations. The most effective combination of activities in changing attitudes was found to be the journal and games (p<0.01), although all combinations of the program activities resulted in attitude scores that were higher than the initial score (p<0.01). There was no significant change in behavior between treatments or between the control group and treatments. Possible causes and other considerations are discussed, including recommendations for future research on the effect of adult behavior modeling, reminders, and factors such as weather, gender, and group size on the depreciative rates of children. The activities will be combined into a PDF packet for distribution to teachers by land managers and environmental educators in the area.
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