30 SES 03 A, Schooling and ESE
Global interest in children’s wellbeing is growing and is now central to major international policy documents regarding children’s life quality (e.g. UN Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing). Research suggests that children’s wellbeing is linked to developing positive learning attitudes and coping successfully with change; conversely, low emotional wellbeing can lead to mental health problems. Critically, 10% of children in England suffer a severe mental health illness and suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people (Merikangas et al., 2010); this figure is higher for vulnerable groups, such as those from areas of high socio-economic deprivation. Whilst subjective wellbeing is important, there is an argument to suggest that focusing simply on wellbeing is not sufficient. One way to move beyond this is using Amartya Sen’s work on human capabilities; the capabilities approach critiques an education based on desired outcomes for the largest number - it looks at the potential to achieve, not actual achievement or outcome (Robeyns, 2011), and it defines achievement broadly.
Substantial benefits for wellbeing may be derived from contact with nature (Cervinka et al., 2012; WHO, 2016) and lack thereof in childhood has been found to be a predictor for adult depression (Snell et al., 2016). Despite this, in the last 30 years the number of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK fell by 90%(Natural Childhood Report, 2012) and children living with high deprivation are nine times less likely to have access to green spaces (Marmot, 2013). A novel way to address this growing extinction of experience amongst children is through art in familiar outdoor places. There is evidence that arts education can improve both wellbeing and social inclusion (Kinder & Harland, 2004), as well as developing children’s capabilities. Hicks and King (2007) further suggest that art education is well situated to address environmental problems that emerge at the point of contact between nature and social life. However, individuals with low socio-economic status have less access to the arts than their more affluent counterparts and the arts are increasingly marginalised in school curricula.
This participatory study is situated at the intersection of these three issues: a concern with children’s wellbeing; their apparent disconnect with the natural environment; and a lack of engagement with the arts in school curricula. It builds on Amartya Sen’s work on human capabilities as a proxy for wellbeing, developing the term eco-capabilities to describe how children define what they feel they need to live a fully good human life through environmental sustainability, social justice and future economic wellbeing (the three pillars of sustainability).
Research was undertaken using arts-based practice of the charity Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination (CCI) within two primary schools in areas identified as having high poverty and deprivation with minimal cultural provision. The overarching research question addressed by the research was: How does working with artists in nature influence children’s wellbeing? This was supported by the following sub-questions:
- How does working with artists in nature support children’s wellbeing through development of eco-capabilities?
- How does working with artists in nature influence children’s perceptions of eco-capabilities?
- What are the mechanisms for change to wellbeing using arts-based practice in nature?
The research methodology draws on arts-based research (ABR), a transdisciplinary approach to knowledge building that combines the tenets of the creative arts in research contexts; through it the researcher, alone or with others, engages the making of art as a primary mode of inquiry (McNiff, 2011). ABR methodology provides a process-oriented view of research with an inclusive approach to engaging disenfranchised perspectives, such as those of children (Leavy, 2018). Within the methodological framework provided by ABR we took a participatory approach to data collection, engaging children in the development, implementation and evaluation phases of the project (Lansdown, 2005). Data collection was undertaken using a case study approach to working with children in two primary schools identified as being in areas of poverty and deprivation with minimal cultural provision and infrastructure. Research included 120 children aged 7-10 years across four classes, two in each school. Methods of data collection were designed to explore the practice of the charity CCI in each school through eight full-day creative adventuring days and included: 1. All children participated in a pre- and post- intervention full day workshop which included: eliciting from children a list of eco-capabilities that would make them happy or give them wellbeing; and walk-and-talk interviews with children around their school reflecting on their relationship with these places. 2. All children took a pre- and post- intervention questionnaire with children; we used the extended Personal Wellbeing Index for School Children (PWI-SC: Cummins & Lau, 2005) questionnaire which measures children’s subjective wellbeing through their ‘level of happiness’ (Tomyn, Norrish & Cummins, 2013). 3. Within the eight days of creative adventuring, teachers, artists and researchers worked collaboratively to keep field notes to capture significant moments across the day, each focusing on their individual fields of interest. At the end of each day they reflected on these collaboratively in focus groups. 4. All teachers and artists undertook a focus group discussion and individual interviews at the end of the creative adventuring days. All qualitative data were transcribed and coded using thematic content analysis. To minimise the impact of personal researcher bias and increase the validity of the study, a sample of interviews were initially analysed by three researchers individually, before comparing collectively to explicate the emerging themes. This project followed BERA ethical guidelines (2018) and was awarded ethical approval by the University Ethics Committee, including additional approval to undertake face-to-face research within the peri-pandemic context.
Findings suggest that working with artists in nature supports the development of eight broad eco-capabilities in children: relationality (human); relationality (non-human); autonomy; senses and imagination; mental and emotional wellbeing; identity; spirituality; and bodily integrity and safety. Of particular note is the relation with nature (relationality: non-human). Ulrich’s psycho-evolutionary theory posits humans’ innate affiliation with natural environments (Ulrich, 1993), drawing upon the assumption that natural environments induce positive emotions and feelings. This human-nature connectedness can help people to view themselves as part of a wider ecology which has a positive impact on aspects of wellbeing, such as vitality, creativity and happiness. Throughout the Eco-Capabilities project, children began to notice the detail of nature more, responding viscerally to the outdoors, and gradually taking more ownership over and becoming more protective of the outdoor spaces through which they were engaging with the art. As such, findings suggest that artistic practice in nature has the potential to engage children with their environment in a way which encourages them to see themselves as part of it.
Cervinka, R., Röderer, K., & Hefler, E. (2012). Are nature lovers happy? On various indicators of well-being and connectedness with nature. Journal of Health Psychology, 17(3), 379-388. Cummins, R. & Lau, A.L.D. (2005). Personal Wellbeing Index – School Children (PWI-SC). School of Psychology Deakin University. Available at: https://www.acc.co.nz/assets/provider/cf11b890df/personal-wellbeing-index-school-children.pdf. [Accessed 17 January 2020]. Hicks, L.E. & King, R.J.H. (2007). Confronting Environmental Collapse: Visual Culture, Art Education, and Environmental Responsibility. Studies in Art Education National Art Education Association A Journal of Issues and Research, 48(4), 332-335. Kinder, K. and Harland, J. (2004). The arts and social inclusion: What’s the evidence? Support for Learning, 19(2), 52–56. Lansdown, G. (2005). Can you hear me? The right of young children to participate in decisions affecting them. Working Papers in Early Childhood Development 36. Available at: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED522740.pdf. [Accessed 17 January 2020]. Marmot, M. (2013). Review of Social Determinants and the Health Divide in the WHO European Region: Final Report. World Health Organization. Merikangas, K.R., He, J. Burstein, M., Swanson, S.A.k Avenevloli, Sh., Cui, L., Benjet, C., Georgiades, K., & Swendsen, J., (2010). Lifetime Prevalence of Mental Disorders in US Adolescents: Results from the National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 49(10), 980–989. Natural Trust, (2012). Natural Childhood Report. Available at: https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/documents/read-our-natural-childhood-report.pdf. [Accessed 17 January 2020]. McNiff, S. (2011). Artistic expressions as primary modes of inquiry. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 39(5), 385–396. National Society for Education in Art & Design (nsead). (2016). The National Society for Education in Art and Design Survey Report 2015-16. Available at: http://www.nsead.org/downloads/survey.pdf. [Accessed 18 Aug. 2019] Robeyns, I. (2006). The Capability Approach in Practice. Journal of Political Philosophy, 14(3), 351–76. Snell, T.L., Lam, J.C.S., Lau, W.W., Lee, I., Maloney, E.M., Mulholland, N., . . . Wynne, L. J. (2016). Contact with nature in childhood and adult depression. Children, Youth and Environments, 26(1), 111-124. Tomyn, A.J., Norrish, J.M. & Cummins, R.A. (2013). The Subjective Wellbeing of Indigenous Australian Adolescents: Validating the Personal Wellbeing Index-School Children. Social Indices Research, 110, 1013–1031. Ulrich, R.S. (1993). Biophilia, Biophobia, and Natural Landscapes. In: Kellert, S.R. & Wilson, E.O. (Eds) The Biophilia Hypothesis, Island Press: Washington DC, US. pp.73-137. WHO (2016). World health statistics 2016: Monitoring health for the SDGs. Geneva: World Health Organisation. Available at: https://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2016/en/ [Accessed 18 Aug. 2019].
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