Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Culture shapes how children view the natural world

How do young children understand the natural world? Most research into this question has focused on urban, white, middle-class American children living near large universities. Even when psychologists include kids from other communities, too often they use experimental procedures originally developed for urban children. Now researchers have developed a methodology for studying rural Native American kids' perspectives on nature and have compared their responses with those of their city-dwelling peers. The findings offer some rare cross-cultural insight into early childhood environmental education.

Sandra Waxman, a developmental psychologist at Northwestern University, and her colleagues have long collaborated with the Menominee, a Native American nation in Wisconsin. When the researchers presented plans for their study to tribe members who were trained research assistants, the assistants protested that the experiment — which involved watching children play with toy animals — was not culturally appropriate. It does not make sense to the Menominee to think of animals as divorced from their ecological contexts, Waxman says.


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