30 SES 06 B, Student Voices in ESE
Over the past two decades, research on child wellbeing has expanded to become a significant international focus; this has arisen as a result of increased attention on children’s rights, and the sociology of childhood and social constructionism as frameworks for undertaking research ‘with’ children (Fattore et al., 2019). Evidence also suggests that children’s wellbeing is a crucial indicator of educational attainment, fulfilment, and productivity (Land & Michalos, 2018), and has clear links with wellbeing in adolescence and adulthood (Kamerman et al., 2003). For these reasons, as well as being important for children’s daily experience of the world, researching children’s wellbeing can be considered as ‘investment in the future’ (Thomas et al., 2016).
The burgeoning evidence that physical environments have a strong impact on health and wellbeing does not feature significantly in the general literature on children’s wellbeing. Connectedness with nature has been found to be associated with aspects of wellbeing, such as life satisfaction (Mayer & Frantz, 2004), vitality (Cervinka et al., 2011) and happiness (Capaldi et al., 2014). Particularly in childhood, access to nature and green spaces has been linked with lower life stress and improved emotional regulation, which can prevent adulthood depression (Snell et al., 2016). There is also substantial evidence demonstrating that opportunities for creativity and engagement with the arts have a significant impact on health and wellbeing (e.g. Moula, 2020). On the rare occasion where the interconnectedness between the arts and nature has been considered, the benefits for children’s wellbeing have been highlighted. For example, children’s engagement in creative and imaginative play in woodland and outdoor spaces was found to have a restorative effect on their physical and emotional wellbeing, with a particularly strong impact on the development of autonomy, empathy and risk-taking (Rudkowski, 2014). In a case study, we explored in particular how arts-based practice in nature is perceived by artists as being transformative for children’s lives; the benefits artists identified included improved imagination, freedom of expression, ownership over aspects of life, and concern for other people as well as for the environment (Walshe et al., 2020). What is missing from the existing evidence, however, are the voices of children. Our current study, Eco-Capabilities, aims to address this, creating a space to bring art and nature together, and contributing to a more holistic understanding of what is important for children’s wellbeing.
Despite the perceived benefits from the access to nature and outdoor spaces, research suggests that large sections of the population spend little or no time outdoors, thereby remaining excluded from its suggested benefits for their health and wellbeing (Boyd et al., 2018). In response to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages; WHO, 2015), governments and policy makers are currently focusing on the implementation of policies that may help to increase engagement with nature and improve the human-nature relationship. This is precisely the purpose of our current study, which is the first stage of the larger Eco-Capabilities research project, the overarching aim of which is to explore how the wellbeing of children living in areas of high deprivation can be supported through working with artists in nature and outdoor places. This wider project involves the engagement of artists with children in natural outdoor spaces for eight weeks; this current paper focuses on children’s initial perceptions of wellbeing through their drawings, before the artist interventions in nature which were paused as a result of school closure during Covid-19.
Participatory and arts-based research methodologies were the primary approaches adopted in this study, the value of which has been widely recognised for the potential to stimulate visual, rather than linguistic thinking, thereby allowing children the space and time to uncover thoughts or experiences that they might struggle to verbalise (Marshall, 2007). In cases when words are inadequate to describe feelings and thoughts, the arts may become an alternative way of representing children’s experiences, or to allow children to access words through different routes; in addition, arts-based methods offer children the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the process of meaning-making. Four classes in Year 3 (ages seven and eight) from two primary schools in eastern England participated in this project; both schools were located in areas with high deprivation, with higher than average number of children being registered for Free School Meals, having Special Educational Needs, and English as an Additional Language. We explored children’s perspectives on their wellbeing and ‘happy places’ through two main activities: the first asked children to draw their happy place, while the second comprised small group discussion around the concept of wellbeing. Two researchers, two teachers and two artists were present in each class; the teachers and artists had been given some training in research so they could act as co-researchers for the project. The role of the adults was to facilitate the conversation where necessary, rather than to direct the children to certain ideas or responses. For example, when some groups were struggling to think what might be important for their wellbeing, the adults supported them by asking prompting questions, or by rephrasing questions. To reduce the potential power imbalance, the adults did the same activities as the children; they drew their own happy and favourite places. Advanced drawing skills and techniques were avoided in an effort to help children focus on their own thoughts rather than on their artistic skills. Thematic analysis was performed both on verbal and visual data; this method helped to construct meaning through the process of data familiarisation, coding, theme development and revision. The process of data analysis was undertaken by three researchers individually, and then collectively to explicate the emerging themes. This iterative process of repeated discussions aimed to ensure that our personal bias, sensitivities, allegiances and situated knowledge did not affect the direction of the findings, with the intention of increasing the validity of the study.
The findings of this study showed that there are a range of aspects of wellbeing that are explicit in children’s drawings; for example, positive relationships with family and friends, as well as the need for love and happiness, were among the most explicit aspects of wellbeing in children’s drawings. However, other elements are less well represented. In particular, the importance of nature, while commonly referenced, predominantly remained in the background of drawings. Interestingly, this is also an aspect that is often missing from the psychological literature on children’s wellbeing, despite being a major topic of interest in both mainstream media and academic literature across the past two decades in fields of study relating to nature-based learning, outdoor education or nature connections (e.g. Jordan & Chawla, 2019). This has led us to speculate if there is a sense in which our reliance on the natural world for wellbeing is implicit, perhaps even subconscious. As such, when asked to talk about the things that matter to our wellbeing we think of the more obvious and widely talked about matters such as positive relationships, physical health and so on, rather than our need for time in nature. This study may be a starting point for bringing together the burgeoning literature of children’s wellbeing indicators in fields such as child psychology with the literature that looks at wellbeing from the point of view of outdoor learning and nature connections. We suggest that the child-focused insights that we explored should be taken into consideration for the effective tailoring of future interventions and services that aim to support children’s wellbeing. We also recommend that future research in this field consider the findings that come from less traditional methods of understanding children’s perspectives, such as drawing, and to incorporate these in future frameworks and indicators of wellbeing.
Boyd, F., White, M. P., Bell, S. L., & Burt, J. (2018). Who doesn’t visit natural environments for recreation and why: A population representative analysis of spatial, individual and temporal factors among adults in England. Landscape and Urban Planning, 175, 102–113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2018.03.016 . Capaldi, C. A., Dopko, R. L., & Zelenski, J. M. (2014). The relationship between nature connectedness and happiness: A meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00976 . Cervinka, R., Röderer, K., & Hefler, E. (2011). Are nature lovers happy? On various indicators of well-being and connectedness with nature. Journal of Health Psychology, 17(3), 379–388. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105311416873 . Fattore, T., Fegter, S., & Hunner-Kreisel, C. (2019). Children’s understandings of well-being in global and local contexts: Theoretical and methodological considerations for a multinational qualitative study. Child Indicators Research, 12, 385–407. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-018-9594-8 . Jordan, C., & Chawla, L. (2019). A coordinated research agenda for nature-based learning. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 766. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00766 Land, K. C., & Michalos, A. C. (2018). Fifty years after the social indicators movement: Has the promise been fulfilled? Social Indicators Research, 135, 835–868. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-017-1571-y . Marshall, J. (2007). Image as Insight: Visual Images in Practice-Based Research. Studies in Art Education: A Journal of Issues and Research, 49(1), 23-41. Mayer, F. S., & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(4), 503–515. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2004.10.001 . Moula, Z. (2020). A systematic review of the effectiveness of art therapy delivered in school-based settings to children aged 5–12 years. International Journal of Art Therapy, 25(2), 88–99. https://doi.org/10.1080/17454832.2020.1751219 . Rudkowski, M. (2014). Fostering emotional wellbeing: personal reflections from an early childhood forest program. Children, Youth and Environments, 24(3), 80-91. DOI:10.7721/chilyoutenvi.24.3.0080. Thomas, N., Graham, A., Powell, M. A., & Fitzgerald, R. (2016). Conceptualisations of children’s wellbeing at school: The contribution of recognition theory. Childhood, 23(4), 506–520. https://doi.org/10.1177/0907568215622802 . Walshe, N., Lee, E., & Smith, M. J. (2020). Supporting children’s well-being with art in nature: Artist pedagogue perceptions. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 1(15). https://doi.org/10.1177/0973408220930708 . World Health Organisation (2015). Health in 2015: From MDGs millennium development goals to SDGs sustainable development goals. Switzerland: WHO. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/200009/9789241565110_eng.pdf;jsessionid=9EA834CCAEDD7BF85310D3F04AD0FFCD?sequence=1
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