May 9th, 2010

Rekindling Memories of Yesterday’s Children: Making the Case for Nature-Based Unstructured Play for Today’s Children

By Linda Ramey


This study examined adults’ feelings towards the environment in relation to recalled memories of childhood play. Today’s adults often associate scouting, summer camps, or playing in a creek with environmental education, with positive affect. Tomorrow’s adults won’t have this experience base. Environmental education and outdoor play have become too formalized for children to benefit in the affective domain, a key ingredient to student engagement and long term memory formation. This study examined descriptive narrative and graphic responses related to outdoor childhood experiences of 222 adult participants. Themes in the data indicate common trends in participants’ early outdoor play experiences and how those experiences shaped their understanding of nature as adults. This pattern suggests both that 1) evoking powerful childhood memories in today’s adults can be a profound tool for environmental education, and 2) tomorrow’s adults need unstructured play experiences now while they are still children. This research provides a bridge between the memories of today’s adults and the well-being of today’s youth – a powerful connector for environmental educators as we struggle to find meaningful tools to persuade adults of the critical need to get children and themselves out into nature and the healing influence of unstructured exploration and play.

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