Public Release:  Kids teach parents to respect the environment

Institute of Physics

A child can directly influence the attitude and behaviour of their parents towards the environment without them even knowing it.

This is according to a group at Imperial College London who have, for the first time, provided quantitative support for the suggestion that environmental education can be transferred between generations and that it can actually affect behaviour.

Their findings have been published today, 13 February, in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research Letters.

The study took part on the Mahé Island in the Republic of Seychelles, where there is a very strong history of environmental education. The researchers based their study around the degradation of freshwater habitats in the country's wetlands, which is being caused by litter, wetland reclamation and household wastewater.

A total of 15 wildlife clubs, who each provide environmental education to children in the school system through a series of activities, took part in the study.

"School children in the Seychelles are fortunate to have a curriculum that emphasises the teaching of environmental concepts across a broad range of subjects," said lead author of the study Peter Damerell of Imperial's Department of Life Sciences.

"In addition, NGO-supported wildlife clubs are present within all education institutions and represent an opportunity to undertake more detailed and interactive activities than are possible within the classroom setting alone."

Of the 15 wildlife clubs involved in the study, seven participated in wetland activities over a 12-month period, whilst the remaining eight worked on alternative subjects; 161 students were involved overall.

Questionnaires were issued to all of the students, as well as their parents, and were based on multiple aspects of wetland knowledge, such as the different species that live in the wetlands and the threats that they're being exposed to.

The questionnaires issued to the parents also included questions on their use of water, which were specifically designed to test how conscious they were of water shortages - there were 16 possible behaviours that a parent was scored on.

Results showed that a child's participation in the activities not only increased their parent's knowledge of the wetlands but also their behaviour - parents were more inclined to conserve water if their child participated in the wetland activity.

It is possible that the parents had a varying amount of wetland knowledge before the study; however, they had no control over which group their child was placed in, meaning the overall differences shown between the experimental and control group can be assumed to be down to the wetlands teaching.

Indeed, the researchers tested a wide range of possible explanatory variables for the observed differences in wetland knowledge and it was those related to children receiving wetland education at Wildlife Club Seychelles that were consistently the best at explaining the observed results.

"Within this study, parents were often shown to be unaware that they were gaining environmental knowledge via their children. This finding alone highlights the need for more quantitative, experimental style investigations into the capacity of children to influence their parent's knowledge and household behaviours.

"By providing evidence that shows children can cause their parents to take up more environmental practices, we hope that many more studies will attempt to look at how much knowledge is transferred under different scenarios, and which pieces of information are most likely to change household practices," continued Damerell.

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From 13 February, the paper can be downloaded from http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/1/015016/article

Notes to Editors

Contact

1. For further information, a full draft of the journal paper or contact with one of the researchers, contact IOP Press Officer, Michael Bishop:
Tel: 0117 930 1032
E-mail: Michael.bishop@iop.org

Child-orientated environmental education influences adult knowledge and household behaviour

2. The published version of the paper 'Child-orientated environmental education influences adult knowledge and household behaviour' (P Damerell, C Howe and E J Milner-Gulland 2013 Child-orientated environmental education influences adult knowledge and household Behaviour Environ. Res. Lett. 8 015016) will be freely available online from 13 February. It will be available at http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/1/015016/article.

Environmental Research Letters

3. Environmental Research Letters is an open access journal that covers all of environmental science, providing a coherent and integrated approach including research articles, perspectives and editorials.

IOP Publishing

4. IOP Publishing provides publications through which leading-edge scientific research is distributed worldwide. IOP Publishing is central to the Institute of Physics (IOP), a not-for-profit society. Any financial surplus earned by IOP Publishing goes to support science through the activities of IOP. Beyond our traditional journals programme, we make high-value scientific information easily accessible through an ever-evolving portfolio of community websites, magazines, conference proceedings and a multitude of electronic services. Focused on making the most of new technologies, we're continually improving our electronic interfaces to make it easier for researchers to find exactly what they need, when they need it, in the format that suits them best. Go to http://ioppublishing.org/.

The Institute of Physics

5. The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society. We are a charitable organisation with a worldwide membership of more than 45,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application. We engage with policymakers and the general public to develop awareness and understanding of the value of physics and, through IOP Publishing, we are world leaders in professional scientific communications. Go to www.iop.org

About Imperial College London

6. Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.

In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible. Website: www.imperial.ac.uk

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