Caring and Biophilia in a Nature-Based Preschool: A Multiple Case Study of Young Children's Engagement with Nature
This dissertation investigates preschoolers' caring behaviors and their relationships with nature at a nature preschool. The need to begin environmental education during early childhood and nurture it as a lifelong practice has been understood for decades. Connectedness to nature is known to be critical for the well being of people and of our world. However, there is a lack of research about how young children develop relationships of care with nature, and hence little understanding about how to support them.
Core ideas from two theories, the ethics of care and biophilia, shaped this interdisciplinary qualitative research, which relied on a child-centered methodology called the Mosaic approach. Four preschoolers served as the focal cases for this multiple case study, in which my role was of a participant-observer.
The questions that guided this research are 1. In what ways, if any, do preschoolers at a nature preschool engage in caring behaviors? a. In what ways, if any, do preschoolers at a nature preschool engage in caring behaviors with nature? b. In what ways, if any, do preschoolers at a nature preschool engage in caring behaviors with people? 2. In what ways, if any, do preschoolers at a nature preschool engage in relationships with nature?
The findings of this research indicate that the preschoolers at this nature preschool engaged in a broad range of caring behaviors that demonstrated high-level social-emotional responses and skills with nature and with other people. Also, their relationships with nature showed diversity, complexity, and evidence of care.