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Children connect with the environment through story writing

Children can gain a stronger connection with the environment through story writing, according to a new study led by the University of York. The research was focused on the issue of plastic litter in Latin American countries along the Pacific Ocean. 

The experts set out to explore how a story-writing activity may influence the perceptions of children about plastic litter, as well as how their behavior may be affected. 

“A key element of our project was to examine the children’s responses to questionnaires they completed before and after writing these stories,” said study co-author Dr. Kayleigh Wyles. “We found that their knowledge on the topic increased and they became more proactive, as they reported doing more pro-environmental acts afterwards.”

The children were asked to use their imaginations about litter items that are commonly found on the beach, such as straws and plastic bags. They were then instructed to imagine how these items ended up on the beach in the first place. 

The writing project showed that children were more likely to think about ways of preventing litter from entering the environment, rather than just cleaning it up. According to the researchers, the most popular solutions proposed in the stories were recycling and adequate disposal of litter. 

Overall, nearly 90 children between the ages of 10 and 18 participated in the study from countries along the Pacific coast, including Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama and Peru.

“Stories offer a new and different way to explore what people believe and how they perceive and make sense of their environment, including in this study, marine plastic litter,” said study lead author Estelle Praet. “The results were truly inspiring and showed the children’s awareness of plastic’s impact on marine life and the environment.”

In more than half of the stories, the children showed awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution in the marine environment, including the risk of animal entanglement. Many stories described consequences of animals ingesting plastic, such as injuries or death. 

“In a previous activity, the schoolchildren had visited the beaches and made drawings of their beaches before and after the visit – many of these drawings also contained litter items, including some of them showed interactions between litter and marine life, underscoring that they notice the environmental problem caused by litter,” said study co-author Diamela de Veer.

“By viewing these plastic items as artefacts, each with its own story, we can bring this back to the human behaviors that related to the objects’ use and their disposal,” said Professor John Schofield. “This project has helped show how we can get that message across to children and hopefully then make a difference.”

The study is published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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