Culture, Environmental Experience and Environmental Awareness: Making Sense of Young Kenyan Children's Views of Place

Hugh Matthews

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Matthews, H. (1). Culture, Environmental Experience and Environmental Awareness: Making Sense of Young Kenyan Children's Views of Place. The Geographical Journal, 161(3), 285.

children and culture , children and the environment , children's maps , Kenyan children

Few studies have explicitly examined the importance of cultural settings to children's environmental awareness, especially in a non-Western context. In this paper, the author reviews those studies which have drawn attention to how culture affects children's behaviour in large-scale environments and refers to an empirical study of a group of young Kenyan children which examines the relationship between environmental experience and environmental awareness. The findings are interesting for three principal reasons. First, they demonstrate that children who are without formal training and with limited access to maps are able to draw relatively sophisticated place representations and to recall their local environment in vivid terms. Secondly, these maps and place descriptions are different to those of their age-sex-counterparts from Britain, which suggests that culture influences expressive style if not cognitive ability. Thirdly, they suggest that further studies, set within other cross-cultural contexts, are needed, if the importance of culture to environmental capability is to be understood. The author argues that although geographers are well-placed to carry out this kind of investigation little geographical research on children's place relationships has been undertaken. In this sense, geographers are particularly remiss and are guilty of forgetting their 'roots.'

Main finding
The author finds that despite not having formal training in mapping, the children were able to adequately map their surroundings. Compared to their age-sex-counterparts in Western industrialized society, the children differed only in style, not cognitive ability. The children's maps reflected a landscape influenced by both culture and gender. Environmental range was stricter for Kenyan children and they were allowed to play in ‘safe’ environments such as schools or visible open ground. There was also a difference in environmental range between genders, partially due to gender stereotyping. Play was affected by gender stereotyping, with boys being seen as more ‘adventurous,’ leading to increased freedom. The author suggests that geographers play closer attention to the way children interpret and make sense of their surroundings.

Description of method used in the article
Interviews with children aged 7, 9, 11, and 13 (n = 40), including drawing activities, were used to collect data on their travel range, play activities, parental care practices, and route descriptions. Ten students from each age group were selected randomly from a local school's attendance register and were matched equally by gender.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Play/Passive Recreation
Physical types
Playgrounds/Sports Grounds Streets
Geographic locations