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The Educational values of trees and forests Public Deposited

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Authors' affiliation/contact: Department of Environment and Society, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-5215 (


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  • Learning is a complex phenomenon, involving three major modes, i.e., affective or emotional, cognitive or intellectual, and evaluative or values-laden (Kellert 2002, 2005). The environments in which this learning takes place can make a significant difference in the degree to which these modes of learning are enhanced. Natural ecosystems (in various stages of succession) have been shown to be among the most effective environments in this regard, due mainly to their complexity, variability, and dynamism, which in turn elicit such responses as satisfaction, delight, joy, excitement, and curiosity (Cobb 1977, Kellert 1996). Moreover, it has been shown that encounters with nature can reduce stress or mental fatigue and thereby subsequently enhance cognitive functioning, creativity, and performance in a range of environments (Kaplan and Kaplan 1989, Hartig et al. 1991, Ulrich et al. 1991, Kaplan 1995, Kellert 2002, Burdette and Whitaker 2005, Taylor and Kew 2006). Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that actual physical contact with nature in a spontaneous and unstructured way enhances learning skills much more strongly than structured or symbolic contact with or experience of nature, especially in children (Kellert 1996, 2005). These findings are in keeping with Kaplan’s (1995) and other’s (Chang and Pergn 1998, Hartig et al. 2003) observations that unstructured contact with nature following periods of structured and focused attention and associated mental fatigue in adults, can result in restoration from such fatigue and thereby subsequently enhance learning and productivity. There is some evidence that contact with trees, especially in savanna settings, enhances learning more than contact with other life forms and ecosystems because of their importance to the survival of humans early in their evolutionary history (Quantz 1897, Heewagen and Orians 1993, Kahn 1999). These findings may have important implications for the teaching and learning process in institutions of higher education and beyond. In particular, they support the notion of less structured and more emotions- or values-laden environments for learning, which tends to run counter to traditional approaches in the academy. Key Words: learning, affective, cognitive, restorative, unstructured Literature Cited: BURDETTE, H. L. and R. C. WHITAKER. 2005. Resurrecting free play in young children: Looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation, and affect. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine 159: 46-50. CHANG, C. Y. and PERGN, J. L. 1998. Effect of landscape on psychological and physical responses. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture 9: 783-776. COBB, E. 1977. The ecology of imagination in childhood. New York: Columbia University Press. HARTIG, T., M. MANG, and G. W. EVANS. 1991. Restorative effects of natural environment experiences. Environment and Behavior 23: 3-26. HARTIG, T., G. W. EVANS, L. D. JAMNER, D. S. DAVIS, and T. GÄRLING. 2003. Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. Journal of Environmental Psychology 23: 109-13. HEERWAGEN, J. H. and G. H. ORIANS. 1993. Humans, habitats, and aesthetics. pp. 138-172 In S. R. KELLERT and E. O. WILSON (eds.). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington, D. C.: Island Press/Shearwater Books. KAHN, P. H., JR. 1999. The human relationship with nature: Development and culture. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press. KAPLAN, S. 1995. The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrated framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology 15: 169-182. KAPLAN, R. and S. KAPLAN. 1989. The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press. KELLERT, S. R. 1996. The value of life: Biological diversity and human society. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. KELLERT, S. R. 2002. Experiencing nature: Affective, cognitive, and evaluative development in children. pp. 117-151 In P. Kahn and S. R. Kellert. (eds.). Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press. KELLERT, S. R. 2005. Building for life: Designing and understanding the human-nature connection. Washington, D. C.: Island Press. QUANTZ. 1979/1998. Dendro-psychoses. American Journal of Psychology 9: 449-506. TAYLOR, A. F. AND F. E. KUO. 2006. Is contact with nature important for healthy child development? State of the evidence. pp. 124-140 In C. SPENCER and M. BLADES (eds.). Children and their Environments: Learning, Using, and Designing Space. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ULRICH, R. S., R. SIMMONS, B. D. LOSITO, E. FIORITO, M. A. MILES, and M. ZELSON. 1991. Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology 11: 201-230.
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