Committee Chair

Tucker, James

Committee Member

Buggey, Tom; Hinsdale, Bernard; Howick, Tom


Dept. of Education


College of Health, Education, and Professional Studies


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


Environmental education researchers have long identified a connection between formative play experiences in nature settings and pro-environmental behaviors (i.e., career paths) of their subjects later in life. Most studies have been post-hoc retrospective looks that have not had the ability to assess causation. As more children are removed from free-play wilderness opportunities, some schools are seeking means to create those formative experiences within the educational setting, but research has not been done to address the impact that this approach has on developing particular environmental behaviors. To address that gap in the literature, this study seeks to identify the impacts that a forest-immersion pre-kindergarten has on the connection of the child with the natural world. Twenty-seven pre-kindergarten students from two academic programs participated in a quasi-experimental study in which they responded to age-appropriate divergent-thinking tasks. Measures of fluency, flexibility, originality, and creativity were compared. Parents completed a survey containing open-ended questions and a 5-point Likert-scaled instrument on ecological perceptions. A significant difference was found between the two groups. The forest-immersion group used more nature-based words in their ideations, which reflects a cognitive impact stemming from their educational environment. Despite both programs employing a Reggio Emilia-inspired teaching philosophy, the students in the forest-immersion program expressed greater numbers of ideations and higher creativity scores as well. Forest-immersion programs us ed in early-childhood education have the potential to impact the cognition of the child as reflected in language use. Subsequent studies need to be done to follow these children as they progress through their education to identify lasting impacts that may arise in the form of pro-environmental behaviors.


Ed. D.; A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Education.




Adventure education; Learning by discovery


Educational Leadership

Document Type

Doctoral dissertations


xi, 110 leaves




Under copyright.