While plants may not be the most interesting subject to some people, did you know that young children have a genuine interest in plants?
What, then, do children know about plants and where do they learn about them?
Professors Patricia Patrick and Sue Dale Tunnicliffe address these questions in What Plants and Animals Do Early Childhood and Primary Students’ Name? Where Do They See Them?
To address these questions, Patrick and Tunicliffe (2011) used a three-layered interview approach to determine the kind of knowledge children had about plants and animals. They interviewed 108 children. Seventy-two from England and thirty-six from the United States. Their sample population was comprised of children from four age groups — 4, 6, 8 and 10.
Patrick and Tunnicliffe used a three-layer interview format to determine what children think of as a plant or an animal, and to investigate how they see relationships between organisms and habitats. They chose this approach over others such as drawing, concept mapping and pre- and post-testing because, as they explain, “…if knowledge is defined as the ability to evaluate ideas and share them through observation, verbalization, hypothesizing, and conversation then we propose that children’s knowledge of plants and animals may be ascertained through interviews” (Patrick & Tunnicliffe, 2011).
In separate interviews, children were asked about their knowledge of plants and animals. During each interview, children were asked to free-list as many plants/animals as possible within a 1-minute period. They were then asked to explain where they saw each plant/animal in their list. Children were also asked about the plants/animals living at their school and at their homes. Finally, children were asked to link a habitat with a plant or animal.
Data collected during the plant interviews indicate that children from England and the US include similar numbers of plants in their free lists (Patrick & Tunnicliffe, 2011). The authors observed that children from both counties name farm-raised plants more often and state they see these plants in home gardens. Patrick and Tunnicliffe (2011) also observed that children’s prior experiences with eating or planting plants with their families made a difference regarding their knowledge about plants. Because of this, the authors recommend that teachers include hands-on activities using real plants (not plastic) in their classrooms.
How did children’s knowledge about plants compare to their knowledge about animals? Here is a quick summary. Patrick and Tunnicliffe (2011) observed that:
- Eight year old children listed more animals than the other age groups.
- English children tended to include more exotic animals in their free lists, while US children included more endemic animals.
- Children from both countries listed farm animals least often.
- Children from both countries indicated they see animals in the media, at home in the garden, at zoos and at school.
Patrick and Tunnicliffe’s investigation into children’s encounters with plants and animals and where they see them is very detailed. Their paper contains much more information and would be of interest to classroom teachers and to informal science educators. Data from this study suggest children are more likely to remember the plants and animals introduced to them outside of school and that a formal classroom setting “does not have a considerable influence on how children understand objects in the natural environment, especially at younger ages” (Patrick & Tunnicliffe, 2011).
The authors provide extensive background into where children encounter plants and animals on a daily basis and explain the value of nature-based experiences outside of the classroom. Included in their paper are copies of the plant interview and the animal interview they used, as well as a long list of references about science education, botany education and environmental education.
Patrick, Patricia and Sue Dale Tunnicliffe. 2011. What plants and animals do early childhood and primary studens’ name? Where do they see them? Journal of Science Education and Technology. 20:630-642
Also see these studies cited in Patrick and Tunnicliffe (2011)
Bebbington, Anne. 2005. The ability of A-level students to name plants. Journal of Biological Education. 39(2): 63-67.
Lindemann-Matthies, Petra. 2005. “Loveable” mammals and “lifeless” plants: how children’s interest in common local organisms can be enhanced through observation of nature. International Journal of Science Education. 27(6): 655-677
Schneekloth, Lynda H. 1989. Where did you go? The forest. What did you see? Nothing. Children’s Environments Quarterly. 6(1):14-17
Tunnicliffe, Sue Dale. 2000. Talking About Plants: Comments of Primary School Groups Looking at Plants as Exhibits in a Botanical Garden. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Cardiff University (September 7-10, 2000).
Uno, Gordon E. 2009. Botanical literacy: What and how should students learn about plants? American Journal of Botany 96(10): 1753-1759
Looking for Hands-on Garden Activities?
See books about plant-based education at ArtPlantae’s retail location at Aurea Vista. These titles can also be purchased online at ArtPlantae Books.