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Measuring connectedness to nature in preschool children in an urban setting and its relation to psychological functioning

Abstract

Background

The urban environment has been criticized for promoting ‘nature-deficit’ and ‘child-nature disconnectedness’. Keeping in mind the importance of nature exposure and its extensive health benefits, many environmental programs around the world hope to (re)connect children with nature. To evaluate the effectiveness of such efforts, valid tools to measure Connectedness to Nature (CN) are needed but do not exist today, especially for use with pre-schoolers.

Methods

The original CN Index was modified and tested among the Parents of Preschool Children (CNI-PPC) in an urban setting (Hong Kong) for its internal consistency (n = 299) and external validity (n = 194). The ‘Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire’ (SDQ) was chosen for divergent and convergent analysis. Conventional recommendations for test adaptation and translation were used.

Results

Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) revealed that the 16-item scale adequately captured four major dimensions: enjoyment of nature, empathy for nature, responsibility toward nature, and awareness of nature (Cronbach’s α were respectively .86, .87, .75 and .80). When tested against the SDQ, a validated measure for child psychological functioning, and identification of children’s problem behaviours, three CNI-PPC factors influenced the SDQ outcomes: (1) the more enjoyment of nature children displayed the less overall distress and impairment they exhibited (β = -.64); (2) greater responsibility toward nature in children was associated with less hyperactivity (β = -.50), fewer behavioural and peer difficulties (β = -.62 and β = -.65 respectively) and improved prosocial behaviour (β = .77); (3) the more aware children were of nature, the less emotional difficulties they exhibited (β = -.51). The variance explained was large (range R2 = .42 to .80).

Conclusions

Thus, CNI-PPC factors have meaningful and substantive associations with the strengths and difficulties parents perceive in their children. This indicates that the CNI-PPC is a valid and reliable instrument to measure CN at an age when children cannot respond for themselves. Further, this simple tool can help researchers/practitioners to better understand how connectedness to nature affects child psychological functioning and wellbeing.

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