Can children learn conservation from educational television?

An Introduction to my Master’s thesis project

When my thesis advisor, Dr. Deena Weisberg, appointed me as our lab’s Green Lab Manager, I did not realize that this role would lead to discovering a research interest in the intersection of psychology and environmental education.

As the Green Lab Manager, my job is to identify ways in which our lab can be more environmentally sustainable, by reducing the amount of resources we use, reusing resources, and recycling.

In the process of evaluating current lab practices and determining how we could be more environmentally sustainable, I realized that the biggest way our lab could improve is by reducing the number of resources we use altogether. I also realized that there is a global need to emphasize conserving resources, rather than just focusing on how used goods are recycled.

Out of my own curiosity, I started looking through developmental and educational psychology literature on what individuals think about sustainability. I discovered that, compared to reusing and recycling resources, using less or conserving resources is rarely discussed. Children most often hear about properly disposing of litter (Palmer et al., 2003), and the harmful effects of litter on plants and other animals (Hartley et al., 2015). They are not, however, often learning how to reduce the amount of waste they create.

Right now, children are taught about recycling fairly often, but not as often about conservation. How do we change the focus from recycling resources to using less of them altogether?

How is it possible to fulfill a global need to conserve resources if children do not learn about this? And, if children are to learn about conservation, how can we make this education accessible?

There are lots of ways to conserve resources, which may be a more effective way to be environmentally sustainable rather than recycling. How can kids be taught to be environmentally sustainable?

One medium through which children can learn about environmental sustainability, and which is very accessible (Bonus & Mares, 2018, Mares & Pan, 2013; Rideout et al., 2013) is educational television. There is an abundance of educational television media that is designed to teach children science.

My Master’s thesis project examines whether educational television can teach preschool-aged children about environmental sustainability and conservation. Specifically, we ask whether children’s knowledge about environmental sustainability, their self-efficacy, and their degree of worry about the environment, can be positively influenced by this media.

Another factor that might impact children’s views is how children engage in conversations about environmental sustainability and conservation in their family environment. Thus, I ask a number of secondary questions, including how children’s environmental knowledge and self-efficacy are related to their parents’ knowledge and self-efficacy, and how children’s knowledge and self-efficacy are linked with their parents’ education levels.

This project is the first to investigate what preschool children know about environmental conservation, and the first to ask whether educational television can be utilized to educate children on this topic. The results of this study will contribute to developing a more refined picture of children’s environmental knowledge, and will help improve current educational media that teaches about environmental sustainability and other scientific topics.

Have thoughts you’d like to share?

I am always happy to hear others’ thoughts and ideas related to my research! If you would like more information on this project or have feedback for me, please feel free to comment on this post, or reach me by email at abodas@villanova.edu.

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