For more than 40 years, the Municipality of The Hague’s outdoor centre, the School in the Wood (School in Bos), has been organising Nature Weeks for children aged 10 to 12 years from more than 100 primary schools in The Hague. Since 1974, about 80,000 children have taken part in a Nature Week at the outdoor centre, which is in Wilhelminaoord in the province of Drenthe. The core of the programme consists of field biology, prehistory and landscapes and has remained more or less the same since the outdoor centre first opened. Staff at the School in the Wood see how enthusiastic the children are during the Nature Week. To gain a better understanding of what influence the Nature Week has on the children, both in the short and long term, the Friends of the School in the Wood Foundation asked the Science Shop (Wetenschapswinkel) at Wageningen University & Research to carry out a study.
The study combined research into the short-term and the long-term influences to obtain an understanding of the immediate effects and the effects later in the participants’ lives, and to compare these two sets of effects. This study is a valuable addition to previous research because few studies have been done in the Netherlands into the short-term and long-term effects of multi-day outdoor programmes.
1. The study of the short-term influence investigated the attitudes, behaviour and knowledge regarding nature and the environment of the current group of primary school pupils taking part the Nature Week.
2. The study of the long-term influence investigated the affinity and sense of responsibility for nature and the environment among past participants (aged 25 to 55).
Results of the short-term influence study
The results of the short-term influence study show that the children had a very enjoyable time during the Nature Week and that their teachers consider the School in the Wood to be a wonderful experience for their pupils. The children’s evaluations confirm that they enjoyed the week. They gave it an average mark of more than 9 out of 10. More than half of the children (52%) gave the week the maximum score of 10 and 94% gave it an 8 or higher. The intervention study shows that the children make distinctly different associations with nature and with the environment: in relation to nature they mentioned mainly biotic aspects, such as plants, animals and trees; in relation to the environment, they mentioned mainly the visible problems and their possible causes (greenhouse effect, plastic). These associations hardly changed in the post-evaluations. The children do not appear to have broadened or altered their views after their visit to the School in the Wood. The pre-evaluation showed that the children already had a positive attitude to nature and there were only a few comments that indicated any significant changes.
After their visit to the School in the Wood they were less scared of picking up small creatures (such as worms and snails), but they became less enthusiastic about observing the environment (clouds, birds). The School in the Wood also appeared to have had no effect on the level of their knowledge. The conclusions on the children’s behaviour (already apparent in the pre-evaluation) are that they enjoy playing outdoors, with building huts being a particularly popular activity. The children also regularly visit natural areas, on average once a month. Parks, the beach and dunes in particular are visited relatively frequently by children from The Hague. But, as for their attitudes, the post-evaluation shows hardly any change in behaviour: the children did not play outside in natural areas any more often after they had been on the Nature Week. Curiously though, the post-evaluation revealed that more children were members of a nature club.
Results of the long-term influence study
The results of the long-term influence study show that the past participants often had vivid and positive recollections of their time at the School in the Wood. The prehistoric village and associated activities in particular were a source of many good memories. To explain the influence of the School in the Wood, it was examined in the context of other factors and experiences. The parents of past participants said that playing outdoors in natural environments and experiences of nature during holidays and free time were important factors in their interest in nature and the environment, but that their time at primary school – excluding the Nature Week – had little influence. The interviews contain indications that of all the children’s experiences at school, one of the most important was their time at the School in the Wood, along with the school gardens. Of the 27 in-depth interviews of past participants, 17 respondents mentioned being influenced by the Nature Week. Some of them said their time at the School in the Wood strengthened or enriched other influential factors. The majority of the questionnaire respondents think that the School in the Wood had an influence on various aspects of their affinity and sense of responsibility for nature and the environment. The questionnaire and interviews also brought to light other effects. Of their own accord, the respondents mentioned attentiveness, a love of nature, a sense of wonderment, caring for the natural world, visiting natural areas and socio-emotional effects.
Based on both studies, we can conclude that the Nature Week is highly appreciated. Moreover, both studies reveal different effects of the School in the Wood, which suggests that the Nature Week may leave different impressions on different children. The pre-evaluation shows that the children already played outdoors a lot and regularly went to natural areas. A relevant question, therefore, is what effect the Nature Week has on those children who have little opportunity in their daily lives to experience the natural world. In future research it would be interesting to take a closer look at the effects of the School in the Wood the respondents mentioned of their own accord