Understanding Environmental Deficit Phenomenon: Influences Affecting Children's Connectedness to Nature

Lauren Bates

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida St. Petersburg


The contemporary generation of young people experiences a childhood unlike any other previous generation. Federal funding for high achievement on standardized tests in the areas of reading and math have resulted in a narrowed school curricula focusing predominantly on these two subjects, and leaving little instructional time and resources for hands-on learning and unstructured time outdoors. Furthermore, children report spending less time outdoors and note that their parents are too busy to take them out to play. These circumstances at school and at home may indicate a decreasing value for nature experiences held by the adults who supervise children, which could affect their perceptions of connectedness to nature. The combination of lack of value for experiences in nature at school and at home may be contributing to a decrease in children’s connectedness to nature, a process which can be called Environmental Deficit Phenomenon. The primary objective of this study was to identify a relationship among the beliefs supporting children’s nature experiences from a child’s home and school settings and children’s perceptions of connectedness to nature. Data was collected from 78 families and 19 teachers in the form of three surveys: 1) of students in third to sixth grade regarding their perceptions of connectedness to nature, 2) of the students’ parents regarding their perceptions of children’s nature experiences, and 3) of the students’ teachers, regarding the classroom curriculum, including green initiatives and the amount of unstructured time spent viii outdoors. Relationships among home and school influences and children’s perceptions of connectedness to nature were measured with a series of models of hierarchical regression at an alpha level of 0.05. A significant relationship was found between the amount of recess, defined as unstructured time spent outdoors during the school day, and the outcome of children’s connectedness to nature. Additionally, the amount of unstructured time spent outdoors contributed to children’s connectedness to nature above and beyond the beliefs supporting children’s nature experiences from the children’s primary caregivers. These findings serve as an initial empirical data to demonstrate the important roles of family and school influences in shaping children’s connectedness to nature. Currently, the environment is deteriorating. Children who feel connected to nature will become the adults who drive environmental policies to protect the future world. Identifying key predictors in children’s connectedness to nature ensures that the present generation can give its youth the tools to advocate for environmental, and consequently, personal wellness.