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How do children learn about nature?

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In the UK over the past two decades there has been a renewed investment in outdoor learning for children. This movement draws on ideas initially popularised in the United States about the importance of connecting children with nature. This movement advocates teaching children about and allowing them to connect with the natural world to provide valuable learning experiences for their personal development. Forest schools are part of this movement and have been established in the UK in response to concerns that children have lost contact with nature. This thesis provides a critical analysis of four such programmes including two forest schools, a school garden and a nature reserve located within the Midlands. It involved an immersive ethnographic study that took place over the 2014-2015 school year involving walking interviews, focus groups and participant observations.

In this thesis, assumptions surrounding children’s supposed disconnection to the morethan-human world have been unpicked. A more-than-social approach is taken moving beyond narrow essentialist constructions of nature and childhood. This approach is combined with performativity in an exploration of participant practices in outdoor learning. In relation to the outdoor learning programmes, it was found that they incorporated Cartesian binaries – child-adult, male-female and people-nature. The knowledges and learning within them did little to encourage more open ways of understanding and being in the world. However, in the outdoor learning spaces there were opportunities for other ways of learning, which the children unconsciously exploited and developed. There were moments of experiential learning, whereby children assembled an array of more-than-humans to produce ways of learning and knowing about the world, which transformed their view of it. In these moments children were open to moving away from Cartesian versions of nature and created more hybrid and fluid natures.


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