Research Summary

Measuring connectedness to nature in preschool children in an urban setting and its relation to psychological functioning

A revised Connectedness to Nature Index may be useful in further understanding the relationship between connecting young children with nature and their psychological wellbeing

PLoS ONE
2018

A growing awareness of the importance of nature contact for healthy child development has prompted multiple initiatives designed to connect children with nature. Evaluating the effectiveness of such programs for young children remains problematic, due to the lack of appropriate evaluation measures. This paper describes two related studies addressing this concern.

The aim of Study 1 was to evaluate if the existing Connectedness to Nature Index (CNI) was applicable for parents of preschoolers in a big city and to identify possible adaptations that could reliably measure young children’s connectedness to nature. The original CNI targets 4th-grade students and includes 24 items addressing four connectedness-to-nature themes: (a) enjoyment of nature, (b) empathy for its creatures, (c) sense of oneness, and (d) sense of responsibility. During the first stage of Study 1, parents of 31 preschool children living in Hong Kong completed the original CNI. Many of these parents marked 50% of the original CNI items as “non-applicable.” These responses indicated that a high proportion of the CNI items were not suitable for either the age group or the urban context in which the families lived. During the second stage of Study 1, 20 of the parents who had completed the CNI participated in semi-structured interviews focusing on issues relating to the CNI items. They suggested other wordings. Their suggestions were incorporated into a revised CNI, referred to as the “Connectedness to Nature Index for Parents of Preschool Children” (CNI-PPC).

Study 2 was designed to test the soundness of the CNI-PPC.  A total of 299 parents of preschool-age children completed the CNI-PPC. Two-thirds of these parents also completed the “Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire” (SDQ), a screening survey that assesses preschoolers’ mental health in five areas: emotional problems, conduct problems, hyperactivity, peer relationship problems, and prosocial behaviors. An analysis of the CNI-PPC items showed that this survey adequately captured the four major dimensions of connectedness to nature: enjoyment of nature, empathy for nature, responsibility toward nature, and awareness of nature. Study 2 results also showed that three CNI-PPC factors influenced the SDQ outcomes: (1) the more enjoyment of nature children displayed, the less distress and impairment they exhibited; (2) greater responsibility toward nature was associated with less hyperactivity, fewer behavioral and peer difficulties, and improved prosocial behavior; and (3) greater awareness of nature was associated with fewer emotional difficulties.

The overall findings of this research showed that many of the assumptions underlying the original CNI items were not applicable in a big city and that the CNI-PPC is a valid and reliable instrument for measuring connectedness to nature in preschool-age children living in an urban environment. The CNI-PPC can be used to measure and further understand the relationship between connecting young children with nature and their psychological well-being.

Citation
Sobka, T., Jia, Z., & Brown, G.. (2018). Measuring connectedness to nature in preschool children in an urban setting and its relation to psychological functioning. PLoS ONE, 13(11). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207057