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Measuring Emotional Connection to Nature and Connection to Place/Community

I’m a member of a team of researchers and practitioners designing a quick, easy to use manual focused on assessing program outcomes for small non-profits delivering programs aimed at connecting children to the natural world. Often times small organizations do not have the staff, money, or resources to manage this process. Although there are ample resources focusing on outcome assessment, we are focusing on emotional and connection to place/community-oriented outcomes. As part of this process, we are gathering any current tools that organizations may be using to measure participants’ emotional connection to nature following an environmental program at a camp, after school program, overnight program, or day program. In particular we are focused on the following outcomes:

Fascination with natural world
Curiosity about natural world
Joy in natural world
Comfort in natural world
Love of natural world
Connection to Place
Connection to Community

If anyone is part of an environmental education organization that is measuring these outcomes, would you be willing to share your measurement tools? We think this will be beneficial to others assessing these important outcomes. We look forward to sharing the manual with you all very shortly. Thank you!

I am interested in the tools you are gathering. We are launching a non-profit within the next few weeks, to examine if images of tree canopies printed on ceiling tiles in elementary classrooms, can foster an emotional connection to the natural environment.

This is something I'm very interested in. As a college professor, I'm used to assessing knowledge, but we have a new program funded by some regional national parks that has emotional connection as a primary goal. If people have these resources and could share them publicly, this would be helpful.

I'm not sure how helpful this is, but I have used the Children and Nature Network research library to try to find studies on these kinds of things before. I would suggest searching those in their library and looking at methods section if you hit on anything that would apply. And please let us know if you find anything specific!

What about putting up a bird feeder even a temporary one? It would be a powerful symbol of how nature makes its presence felt, even in human-made habitats. I remember growing up with one, and figuring out quite a bit, with no curriculum required. To this day, I can tell the difference between male and female finches and sparrows (even a female finch and female sparrow), describe several unusual birds (grosbeak, yellow-rumped warbler), and discuss a wide range of behaviors.
Most important, I learned a few things about the philosophy of the wild. Sparrows fought over their perches, and the activity of the small birds attracted predators, like hawks, and opportunists, like the local crows and squirrels.
In the same way, students might discover just how rich with life their neighborhood is, and develop a healthy respect for wild animals.

This is Cathy Jordan, Director of Research for the Children & Nature Network. I recently pulled together our research summaries for an empirical study that used a standardized measure of connectedness to nature. I hope this helps!

File c2n_abstracts.docx38.99 KB

Thanks so much for this. We've been trying to develop some of these tools and I hadn't seen this paper. If there are other resources you think work really well, please let me know. We're running a college program for underrepresented youth with a mission of building an emotional connection for the students to public lands.

Our environmental education non-profit, Thorne Nature Experience, uses a tool called Photo Elicitation to measure emotional connection to nature in our elementary-aged after school program; and Behavior Observations in our summer camp program (same age). Each tool is particularly suited to the unique logistics of each program. Both tools can be adapted for a wide variety of contexts. Photo Elicitation is modified from Photo Voice, a tool used in the social justice/community advocacy sector. Both tools are qualitative, and you can analyze data for themes you are curious about, as well as look for themes that emerge from the data itself.
Over multiple years of implementation and refinement, we have been able to tell the story of HOW kids are connecting to nature through our programs, as well as use this to inform program decisions. For example, we know that in our after school program, empathy, joy, attention to detail, and wonder are the the most prevalent themes that our participants experience. Joy and empathy were themes we pre-selected; but attention to detail and wonder were emergent themes. We can then connect this to what the literature says about building long-term stewardship. I'd be happy to talk more about this if you'd like to reach out directly.
Have fun!