Planting a Seed: An Examination of Nature Perception, Program Processes, and Outdoor Experience

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The purpose of this study was to conduct research to (a) better understand children?s perceptions of nature and (b) aid in opening the ?black box? related to programmatic processes and outcomes in outdoor education research. Three separate studies were conducted. The first study used surveys, drawings and interviews to explore the assumption of a nature deficit-disorder for fifth grade youth living in an urban environment. The study investigated students? definitions and perceptions of nature. Findings indicated variations in students? perceptions and suggested that direct nature experiences can play a significant role in creating a connection with nature. The second study built upon the first. The study focused on the impact of an outdoor educational experience upon fifth grade children's perceptions of nature. The quasi-experimental mixed-method design provided valuable insights into outcomes associated with students? participation in a four day, three night outdoor learning education program sponsored by the Houston Independent School District (HISD) and its Outdoor Education Center (HISD-OEC). As result of attending the program, students increased their scores on survey measures and changes in interview responses and illustrated drawings suggested that students ascribed new meaning and increased affection for nature. The final study used a case study approach to provide an in-depth review of the HISD-OEC program?s purpose, mission, philosophy, and program implementation practices. The findings linked student reported outcomes to program processes. The study was structured around the grounded theory approach of McKenzie (2000