New Book Investigates Relationship between Children, Nature

A scientific investigation of the relationship between children and nature is the focus of a new book co-edited by professors at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the University of Washington.

The book, “Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations,” published by MIT Press, examines the evolutionary significance of nature during childhood; the formation of children’s conceptions, values, and sympathies toward the natural world; how contact with nature affects children’s physical and mental development; and the educational and political consequences of the weakened childhood experience of nature in modern society.

“For much of human evolution, the natural world was one of the most important contexts of children’s maturation,” says Stephen Kellert, Tweedy/Ordway Professor of Social Ecology at Yale. “Yet scientific knowledge of the significance of nature during the different stages of childhood is sparse.”

Children and Nature incorporates research from cognitive science, developmental psychology, ecology, education, environmental studies, evolutionary psychology, political science, primatology, psychiatry, and social psychology.

Kellert is the author of the recently published, “The Good in Nature and Humanity: Connecting Science, Religion and Spirituality with the Natural World.” His work has focused on the connection between human and natural systems with a particular concern for the conservation of biological diversity and designing ways to harmonize the natural and human built environment.

He has authored more than 100 publications, including several books that explore people’s relationship to nature. In 1993, he co-edited “The Biophilia Hypothesis” with Edward O. Wilson, an entomologist at Harvard. The book brought together 20 scientists from various disciplines to refine and examine the idea of biophilia, which suggests that humans possess a deep and biologically based urge to connect with the natural world.

He went on to publish “The Value of Life: Biological Diversity and Human Society” (1996), and “Kinship to Mastery: Biophilia in Human Evolution and Development” (1997). He is working on another book, “Ordinary Nature: The Role and Design of Natural Diversity in Everyday Life,” to be published by the University of California Press.

The other co-editor of “Children and Nature,” Peter Kahn, Jr., is an associate professor of psychology and research affiliate with the Center for Mind, Brain and Learning at the University of Washington and co-director of the Mina Institute in Covelo, Calif. He is the author of “The Human Relationship with Nature” (1999).

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Dave DeFusco: david.defusco@yale.edu, 203-436-4842