Young Kids and Environmental Sustainability: A Needs Assessment

January 1st, 2010 | EVALUATION

In 2010, WGBH Boston ( was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore the development of a new animated television series for children about environmental sustainability. In preparation for the series development, NSF requested that WGBH perform a needs assessment to determine how much kids know and understand about topics related to environmental sustainability. In September 2010, the focus groups took place at WGBH in Boston, MA. Each focus group was comprised of a mix of girls and boys aged 6 - 9 years old. We recruited 60 children from the greater Boston area to participate in the groups. The goal of the focus groups was to gather data on kids' knowledge and attitudes about the environment and sustainability. The kids in this study uniformly demonstrated positive attitudes towards the environment and reported practicing the •green habit of recycling. Kids understood the impact that human beings can have on the environment from not recycling. Furthermore, kids demonstrated that they understood that different species share resources within the environment and that there is interdependency between species. Following are the needs we identified in this study that WGBH may want to address for the new series: Young kids need more information about sustainability and the rationale behind it. We observed a difference in the depth of understanding about sustainability between the younger (6 and 7 year olds) and older (8 and 9 year old) kids. For example, while most kids reported they recycled, younger kids found it more difficult than older kids to explain the reasons why they engaged in this behavior. Kids' understanding of the environment seemed limited to the concept of recycling. Many kids equated the notion of the environment with recycling. It's possible that initiatives encouraging people to •go green are teaching kids about the environment within the context of recycling in their communities and schools, but not extending learning beyond that. Thus, there appears to be an opportunity to educate kids in other aspects of the environment and to expand their thinking beyond recycling. Kids may need more motivation to interact with nature. While kids reported that they enjoyed playing outside, very few reported that their favorite activity included interacting with nature. Thus, there are opportunities to motivate kids to get outside and interact more with their natural surroundings. Kids had an incomplete understanding of water as a cycle. Most kids demonstrated only a partial understanding of the water cycle. Kids grasped the concept that the water they used might come from distant sources like oceans and rivers and that the rain was a source of their water. But, most kids did not demonstrate an understanding that water is re-used repeatedly via the water cycle. Kids did not demonstrate a clear understanding that some resources are finite and that some things aren't renewable. Kids demonstrated confusion about whether water is renewable and how living things might or might not be able to regenerate. Kids need more information about factors influencing the environment. Kids understood that they could have an impact on their environment. And, they understood that there are unseen things that are essential to survival (like air). But, kids saw animals as more of a threat to their worlds than other unseen factors such as pollution. The appendix of this report includes the focus group script used in the study.



Team Members

Christine Paulsen, Evaluator, Concord Evaluation Group
WGBH, Contributor


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1010959
Funding Amount: 249254

Related URLs

LOOP: Season One


Audience: Elementary School Children (6-10) | Evaluators | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Education and learning science
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Formative | Interview Protocol | Research and Evaluation Instruments
Environment Type: Broadcast Media | Media and Technology