Ninety percent of Australians live in urban areas. In Sydney – our country’s most densely populated city – an average of 2000 people inhabit every square kilometre. As Sydney continues to grow, there is potential for green spaces to move or shrink, causing an extinction of nature experience among our youth. Impacts of this nature deficit are already evident in health and wellbeing trends – for example, childhood obesity rates are higher in neighbourhoods devoid of green space.
In addition to promoting health benefits, spending time in nature as a child can also inspire people to protect the environment. Indeed, global conservation may depend on interactions between city residents and urban nature.
A major mission of botanic gardens is to support conservation by providing meaningful educational experiences. Not only can students feel more connected to nature as a result of excursions to urban gardens, but they may also learn content more effectively than they do in class. Children often regard these experiences as enjoyable and memorable, recalling specific details months or years later. Despite these promising new research findings, botanic gardens are still considered under-researched educational settings, with only one in five institutions regularly evaluating their education programs.
For this project, the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney (RBGS) is working with researchers to seek feedback from student visitors in Years 3-8 (Stages 2-4). At the end of their lesson at the Gardens, students answer a series of questions regarding: (1) how they felt throughout the visit; (2) what they learnt; (3) what they did and did not enjoy; and (4) how they feel about nature. Up to 25 children can do this simultaneously on the RBGS iPads, and it generally takes no longer than 10 minutes to complete. Responses will be analysed and used to inform lesson planning at the Gardens. They will also help researchers shed light on the role that excursions play in connecting urban children with nature.
Participation in this research is completely voluntary. If you wish to take part, please inform the RBGS Bookings Officer on firstname.lastname@example.org when making an excursion booking and they will put you in touch with the researchers. This research is being conducted by PhD candidate Ryan Keith, supervised by Associate Professor Dieter Hochuli (The University of Sydney). Professor Lisa Given (Swinburne University of Technology) and Dr John Martin (The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney) are also supervising the study. Whilst the researchers hope you will be keen to assist with this project, there are no consequences of choosing to decline participation – this decision will not impact your relationship with their institutions, now or in the future.