When students arrive in your classroom, what is their attitude towards plants?
How did these attitudes form?
If you teach a traditional botanical art class, you most likely have enthusiastic students with vast amounts of plant-based experiences and knowledge. If you lead nature walks and work with the public, you may find that your audience does not have a particular interest in plants.
Do you ever wonder what people’s experiences with plants have been prior to meeting them?
I do. While I don’t have an answer to the question above, I can share a study that might serve as a first step to answering this question.
In the late 1980s, then-graduate student Margarete R. Harvey, conducted a study of how children experience plants and how their experiences contribute to their interest in the environment. She describes her research project and findings in Children’s Experiences with Vegetation.
Harvey (1989) conducted a study in which she evaluated children’s experiences with vegetation as play objects, as food, as tasks, as obstacles, as ornament and as adventure. She created subcategories for each experience. Because knowing these subcategories is important to understanding even this very brief look at Harvey’s research, I need to create a quick list of each experience and their respective subcategories. Here they are as presented in Harvey (1989):
Vegetation as Play Object
(tree climbing; playing in tall grass; playing hide-and-seek in bushes)
Vegetation as Food
(picking fruit and vegetables; tasting leaves, flowers or berries;
Vegetation as a Task
(mowing the lawn; watering plants; pulling weeds)
Vegetation as an Obstacle
(being stung by nettles; allergic reactions; plants interfering with
Vegetation as Ornament
(growing houseplants; putting flowers in a vase; pressing leaves
Vegetation as Adventure
(playing in a park; walking in a forest; camping)
Harvey (1989) created a questionnaire that was distributed to 995 children, ages 8-11, at 21 schools in England. Her analysis is based on the 845 completed questionnaires she received. Harvey analyzed how often students engaged in the 18 activities described above, their level of enjoyment with these experiences, children’s attitudes towards vegetation and their attitudes towards trees, bushes and flowers on school grounds.
Large amounts of data were analyzed. Here are some interesting points from Harvey (1989):
- Boys enjoy contact with vegetation as play objects and as adventure.
- Girls enjoy contact with vegetation more as food and ornament.
- Girls’ attitudes towards vegetation is more positive overall.
- Both boys and girls liked bushes the least. Boys liked trees best, girls liked flowers the most.
- Older children had fewer positive reactions to plants, than younger children.
- Children of higher socio-economic status had more experiences with vegetation, more contact with vegetation and expressed more appreciation towards plants.
- Experiences with vegetation had a positive influence on children’s attitudes towards plants.
These points only hint at what is contained in Harvey’s interesting paper. Pick up a copy of her paper to learn about the tools she used to measure degrees of enjoyment, student interest in vegetation, and how children’s past experiences with vegetation influenced their attitudes towards plants.
Get a copy of Children’s Experiences with Vegetation at your local college library.
Harvey, Margarete R. 1989. Children’s experiences with vegetation. Children’s Environments Quarterly. 6(1): 36-43.