Investigating the ways young children understand human-nature relationships through family engagement with Natural History Museum programmes


Supervisor: Jill Hohenstein

Non-accademic partner: Natural History Museum, London

Studentship start date: October 2021

Application deadline: Friday 26 February 2021

Application details:

The studentship will be available full time.

The vital goals of preserving habitats to retain biodiversity, limiting global warming and reducing the risk of further pandemics require immediate and longterm action. This project seeks to examine ways that young children come to understand the natural world and their potential roles as advocates for the planet. Today’s children may be the last generation that can make a difference to stop environmental calamity. To help preserve the global environment and the natural world, it is important that people understand their connection to nature. However, research suggests that Western children (and adults) often lack an appreciation for their identity as part of the natural world. In contrast, a variety of formal and informal experiences can help children gain greater understanding about the natural world and their relation to it. As such, it is essential that young people are encouraged to establish feelings of connectedness to the natural world through such experiences. Natural History Museums are optimal settings to examine the ways that children and their families think about the natural world: these are relatively stable settings (e.g., not affected by weather) and hold myriad objects and activities that engage visitors. The Natural History Museum London (NHM) has developed an Advocate Engagement Model (AEM) to help design visitor experiences that will inspire longterm connection to nature and advocacy for the planet. This model builds on museum strengths for inspiring awe during a visit and extends this to look for means to inspire positive environmental action from child visitors after they have left the museum. To test the AEM, a collaborative PhD project between the NHM and King’s College London’s School of Education, Communication & Society (ECS) will explore the ways that children’s (aged 6 to 11) experiences with their families at the NHM can lead to becoming an advocate for the planet. The research will rely upon child clinical interviews and family museum visit observations in addition to questionnaire data from both children and their parents. These data will be examined qualitatively and quantitatively to enable the design and implementation of programmes and activities in the museum and elsewhere to facilitate children’s uptake of important roles as environmentalists. Findings will be disseminated through a variety of museum, academic and other communication platforms so that they can be capitalised upon in multiple educational settings.