Can natural history collections support a connection to nature for young children and families?

Elaine Bates


Recent studies indicate that contact with nature is important for children’s development, and supports creativity, wellbeing, problem solving and empathy with nature as adults. Researchers raise concerns that this experience is being eroded by a decline in green spaces (especially in cities) and an increasingly risk averse society (Bragg et al.2013; Louv 2005; Moss 2012; Pretty et al. 2009).

Whilst direct experiences of nature may be increasingly rare for young children, Kellert’s work on biophilia and child development (2005) suggests that indirect experiences with nature, such as those occurring during a museum visit, may be able to compensate for this.
Within this context, Manchester Museum developed Nature Discovery (opened in December 2014), a gallery aimed at engaging under-5s and their parents with nature. As well as drawing from existing studies of young children in museums, the gallery responded to research carried out with local parents, young children and teachers. This research focused on documenting parent and child interactions during a series of child-led, family visits to the existing natural history galleries and further visits by different families to evaluate the new gallery (2015).

Using existing nature connection measures (Cheng and Munro 2012; Ernst and Theimer 2011), the results suggest that natural history objects can support a connection to nature, which may result in environmentally friendly behaviours in adulthood. Parent and child interaction is identified as a key characteristic of supporting a connection to nature and in supporting children’s learning.


early years, natural history galleries, nature connection, families

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Copyright (c) 2018 Elaine Bates

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