By Dr Gulcan Garip & Prof Miles Richardson
Our relationship with nature is failing, as evidenced by the loss of biodiversity and climate warming. This has led to calls to reconnect people with nature, particularly children. Programmes in green spaces are important for encouraging and enabling people to connect with nature and adopt pro-environmental behaviours, but there is a need to evaluate the outcomes. The Green Spaces Learning Places (GSLP) in London offered a range of activities for children and young people to encourage engagement with nature. In our latest study published in the Journal of Environmental Education, an evaluation toolkit was co-developed by researchers and practitioners to identify the impact of participating in the GSLP programmes on the following outcomes:
(1) Understanding: Participants understand the value and importance of green space.
(2) Confidence: Participants are confident to use green spaces, as part of our activities
(3) Nature connection: Participants develop a sense of place with green spaces, and
pass this down through generations.
(4) Wellbeing: Participants have restorative and meaningful experiences in green
(5) Involvement: Participants take positive action for, and get involved with, green
Sixteen schools took part in Green Spaces, Learning Places (GSLP). The evaluation resources were used with a pre-post survey of 504 school-aged children (5-10 years) and 54 young people (13-19 years), observation of 62 children, and interviews with 26 children and young people. Due to the young ages of some participants in the GSLP programs, existing traditional and validated scales were not appropriate for all participants and some outcomes required a bespoke approach. Therefore, a series of single item measures that directly corresponded to understanding, confidence, nature connection, wellbeing and involvement were developed and used across all ages for consistency. Briefly, these were:
- Understanding: ‘do you think parks and places like this are important?’ A ‘happy face’ response demonstrating a participant perceiving green spaces as important.
- Nature connection: ‘how special are green spaces like this to you?’ A ‘happy face’ response indicated participants may experience a sense of place and meaning
- Wellbeing, participants were asked ‘how does being in nature make you feel?’ A ‘happy face’ response indicated participants reported positive feelings about being in nature.
- Involvement: ‘I want to take care of nature and green spaces?’ A ‘happy face’ response to this item indicated participants’ pro-environmental attitudes and likelihood of pro-environmental behaviour,
- Confidence: ‘how confident or good are you at exploring nature and parks?’
Participants were asked to respond on a 5-point Likert scale to indicate their level of agreement with the items, an example has been presented in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Single-item measure to collect data on understanding.
Based on survey responses from the school-aged children (5-10 years) and young people (13-19 years), our findings suggest the GSLP programmes had a positive influence on increasing participants’ outcomes for the five dimensions we measured. Furthermore, interviews with participants and observation indicators were useful in providing contextual insights that supplemented the findings from the survey.
It was found that participation in GSLP programs significantly improved children’s (ages ranging 5-10 years) before and after ratings of the five outcomes, as shown in Table 1. Although the differences were significant, the changes were relatively modest.
Table 1. Primary School Mean Changes from baseline to follow-up – primary years
For the Green Talent program, 54 participants (aged 13 to 19) completed the survey questions with the smiley face response scales. A significant improvement across all dimensions was observed following participation in the program. Interestingly, the differences were much larger, as can be seen in Table 2. National surveys have found a notable ‘teenage dip’ in nature connectedness, this means there is a need for interventions with this age group and these findings suggest they can be very successful. Given the relationship between nature connection and mental wellbeing in adolescents, this is an area for further activity and greater returns.
Table 2. Green Talent Mean Changes from baseline to follow-up – Teenage Years
The findings from the psychological evaluation show significant positive influences based on before and after self-reports and qualitative findings related to the five outcomes, which supported the aims of the GSLP programmes. Ensuring sustainable delivery of these programs, with opportunities for children and young people to engage with green spaces as part of these programs, can allow for longer-term evaluation of the effects on participants, as well as on the conservation of green spaces.
The paper shows the value of the collaborative process which provides a model for others in evaluating similar programmes. Furthermore, the positive results related to the five outcome measures highlight the value of engaging children and young people with nature and green spaces through participation in well-designed programmes, not just for the positive impact on wellbeing for participating individuals but also for the conservation of our natural world.
Garip, G., Richardson, M., Tinkler, A., Glover, S., & Rees, A. (2020). Development and implementation of evaluation resources for a green outdoor educational program. The Journal of Environmental Education, 1-15.