Children and nature: How do children experience nature? 

The research project ‘How do children experience nature? Meaning-making and outdoor life socialization’ explores how children experience nature, where and how children’s outdoor recreational activities develop and the role of adults in relation to children’s outdoor life. 

Research about children’s experiences in and of nature. Foto Camilla © Næss/NINA

This project explores children’s engagement with nature today, in various contexts and with different degrees of adult presence. Through the outlooks of the child, the parent, and the pedagogue, we gain insights into different perspectives.

Even though changes in children’s use of nature appear to be extensive, within a Norwegian context, our knowledge about children’s relationship with nature is limited. Hence, this project aims to improve our knowledge about children’s use of nature, and the importance of different nature experiences. The study will generate increased knowledge about children’s preferences in terms of nature types and nature qualities. 

The project will contribute with important knowledge about children’s outdoor activities, their relationships with nature and the formation of opinion in relation to children’s nature experiences. In line with political health-, and outdoor recreational directives such knowledge may be useful for improving the social and physical boundaries that are associated with children’s outdoor recreation socialization.
The project group. From the left: Gro Follo (Bygdeforskning), Margrete Skår (NINA), Vegard Gundersen (NINA), Gjertrud Stordahl and Ingar Pareliussen (Dronning Mauds Minne), Lill Susan Rognli Vale (Høyskolen iTelemark).  

The study consists of four main parts:

1. Literature review

The literature review discusses research in this field, and provides an overview of our current understanding of the extent to which children participate in outdoor activities today, primarily focusing on Norway. What do we know about the scale and substance/matter of children’s nature experiences? 

2. Questionnaire 

A national quantitative survey is conducted among a representative sample of parents with children between 6 and 12 years of age. The study documents when, where, who, and under what circumstances children are out in nature.

3. Qualitative case studies

Three in-depth case studies are employed to examine the influence, or importance of adults’ presence, and organization, on children’s nature experiences, but also reflecting different kinds of nature experiences. One case study represents nature experiences in the kindergarten; a second case study represents organized spare time outdoor activities, and finally, a third case study represents children’s nature experiences in the absence of adults. 

4. English partnership, Forestry Commission

Several studies from western countries indicate similar changes in children’s nature experiences. Through a cooperation with English researchers from the English Forestry Commission, we will compare findings from our study with the findings from similar studies in England both with regard to children’s recreational activities in nature, and with regard to physical planning in natural areas. 



Children and nature

Projectleader:  Margrete Skår

How do children experience nature? Meaning-making and socialization to outdoor life