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TACKLING THE EFFECTS OF THE ALLEGED NATURE DEFICIT DISORDER THROUGH OUTDOOR GAMING

Sam Roberts

ABSTRACT

This report summarises the progress to date, developing a service which encourages children in Key stage 1-2 to reconnect with nature through gamification technology with their families. The aim of this project is to counteract the negative effects of children spending less time outdoors (coined as the Nature Deficit Disorder) through educational outdoor gaming that relates to the school curriculum.

Keywords: Nature Deficit Disorder, Gamification, Indoor Generation, Educational, Curriculum

1 INTRODUCTION AND PUROPOSE

With children now better at identifying Pokémon characters than common British wildlife names, there are concerns that we are increasingly losing touch with nature (Balmford et al., 2002).  It is indicated that children today have become indoor-bound and spend less time outdoors than any other generation, devoting just 4-7 minutes a day playing/exploring in green spaces, while spending an average of seven and a half hours in front of electronic media (National Recreation and Park Association, n.d.). This report looks into how technology can be used to helping children to experience nature and to develop a lasting affinity for the natural world and the outdoors. With the right design features, technology could help reconnect young people and their families to the natural world, rather than encourage children to stay indoors.

2 LACK OF OUTDOOR TIME

A lack of time outdoors and in nature as children results in a wide range of negative effects coined as the Nature Deficit Disorder, including a loss of natural knowledge and respect for the environment (Moss, 2012). Children are not getting the health benefits of outdoor time in nature and, importantly, they are not having enough of the experiences needed to develop a lifelong appreciation for nature and the outdoors, which results in a disregard for the environment. U.K. Children are losing a true connection to nature and are become less conservation-minded (RSPB, 2013). In the United Kingdom, the RSPB found that just 21% of kids in the U.K. evidenced a reasonable affinity for the natural world, demonstrating the importance of outdoor time.

Research shows that over-protective parents are keeping children indoors in order to keep them safe from danger. One reason is due to a culture of the growing fear of strangers (Franklin, 2010), heavily fuelled by the media. 40% of parents blame their reluctance on letting children out of their sight on fear their child will be snatched by a stranger.

Urbanisation has caused a loss of natural surroundings in a child's neighbourhood and city, with poor city planning partly to blame. There is an unequal distribution of green space, meaning children from more disadvantaged backgrounds have less access to nature (UCL Insititute of Health Equity, 2014). The most affluent 20% of wards in England have five times the amount of green space compared with the most deprived 10% of wards (CABE, 2010). Bringing nature to these disadvantaged communities in the form of digital technology could close this nature inequality gap.  

There is also an increased draw to spend more time inside as technology like tablets, computers, video games, and television become an accepted part of children lives. According to research papers, in 1995 children spent an average of 3 hours a day in front of an electronic screen. Twenty years later that number has more than doubled to 6 and a half hours a day (Childwise, 2015), which impacts outdoor time.

4 AN AFFINITY FOR NATURE

Having a sense of connection to nature can make a substantial difference in willingness to participate in environmentally friendly practices. Research suggests children who have partook in “wild” nature activities were more likely to have pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours as adults. Positive results were also seen from less wild activities such as planting flowers, but young people being more immersed in nature had the greatest results. (Wells, et al., 2006).

According to research by the National Wildlife Research, in order to create nature experiences that have a long- term effect, the experiences must be:

- In nature  - From woodlands to back gardens.

- About nature – The children are focused on the nature,  not an unrelated outdoor activity.

- Recurring - More than a one-off experiences.

- Conducted over a significant period of time – A year/school year/season

- Richly affirming – The child is learning skills, having fun and adventure, interacting positively with others, exploring and developing a sense of belonging and competence.

- Supported by a caring adult – Children can play on their own or in groups but they are particularly affected by the attention, guidance, enthusiasm and praise of significant adults in their lives.

5 INCLUDING PLAY EXPERIENCES WITH OUTDOOR LEARNING

Play in children's lives is necessary. As children play, they develop critical cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills. Play even contributes to proper brain development (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). Physical activity in childhood is important for many reasons and a variety of sources indicate a direct relationship between physical activity and children's health (Hope and others 2007). In early childhood physical exercise helps build strong bones, muscle strength and lung capacity (Lindon 2007). It may also increase cognitive function, improve academic achievement and accelerate neurocognitive processing.

Time children spend playing continues to decrease, under threat from the rising pressures of academic standards. Today, children play eight hours less each week than their equivalents did two decades ago (Elkind, 2008). Play is being replaced by exam preparation through educational toys. In order to properly benefit from educational play, the P/S/S must allow for free play. Tackling both the threat to play and the loss of nature in children's lives in the form of an outdoor product or service provides a real design opportunity. Combining play with the outdoors can have added health benefits; in Scandinavia, children aged around six were found to develop balance and co-ordination faster when playing in a forest than in a traditional playground.

6 ALIGNING WITH THE CURRICULUM

Parents are more likely to buy an educational game, especially if it supports a school curriculum education. Looking at Key Stage 1 – 2, learning about nature is a core element to the science curriculum. Pupils are introduced to the terms ‘habitat' and ‘micro-habitat' and are encouraged to raise and answer questions about the local environment.  In Year 1 and 2 (5 – 7 years old), students must be taught to:

- Identify and name a variety of common wild and garden plants, including deciduous and evergreen trees.

- identify and name a variety of common animals including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

- Identify and name a variety of common animals that are carnivores, herbivores and omnivores.

- Identify that most living things live in habitats, and how they depend on each other.

- Identify and name a variety of plants and animals in their habitats, including micro- habitats.

- Describe how animals obtain their food from plants and other animals, using the idea of a simple food chain

7 CURRENT MARKET

7.1 Apps

While many nature enthusiasts adopt a “just unplug” attitude on the use of digital technology and apps as nature connectors, most parents do not share that view. Current trends and research show that the use of mobile apps and related web platforms is actually an accepted part of modern parenting and family life. Department of Agriculture Social Scientist, Deborah Chavez, of California discovered that the children enjoyed all of the activities but gave the highest scores to the technology-enhanced activities when learning about the environment (Chavez, 2009).

Digital technology is popular among children, however there are still relatively few apps that can facilitate the actual transition between the indoors and outdoors. Nature is a common theme for many digital apps. Research would indicate that the overwhelming number of “nature apps” do not actually create a true nature connection. They must follow the principles in Appendix A.

7.1.1 Educational Apps

There are many educational books, Television programmes and apps that have approached the task of educating children about nature and introducing them to wildlife, however these are usually experienced in indoor settings. Examples of educational apps are listed in Appendix B. These do not, according to principles of social science, create a deep-felt affinity for nature largely because the young person is mostly not experiencing nature in real-time.

7.1.2 Locating Nature Apps

Some of the available mobile apps and some mobile-accessible online programs are aimed at helping people (mostly parents, caregivers and adults) to find nature places, trails, and events that will lead to true nature and outdoor experiences. They are designed for the adult who accompany the child outdoors; please see examples in Appendix B.

7.1.3 Nature Observation Apps

This category of apps is for direct use by the child in nature and they provide a more authentic nature experience because they are focused on nature observation and information collection. They often have the advantage of educating a child about nature in real time and providing incentives such as the pride of posting their observation to a legitimate database. It can enhance the positive feeling that a child has toward nature and the outdoors by letting them immediately verify their observations through collection. They are, however, built around an assumption that the child is already outdoors and do usually address the tendency for the indoor child to stay indoors. Please see examples in Appendix B.

7.3 Wild Schools

Nature preschools are a growing trend in education, using natural environments to encourage children to learn personal, social and technical skills. Nature Vision provides a 9-month, nature-based preschool program for children at least 3 ½ years old at Farrel-McWhirter Park. The mission of The Farm and Nature Preschool is to provide a nature and play-based experiential learning environment to help foster a sustainable culture in our community (Nature Vision, 2018).

7.4 Nature Campaigns

The RSPB have launched a major campaign to connect every child in the U.K. to nature and the outdoors, including a schools on reserves programme and Big Schools' Birdwatch, and family events on reserves. Family events follow the research that to foster have pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours as adults, children must have “wild” nature experiences (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, 2010).

7.5 VIRTUAL REALITY  The State of Nature reports have revealed the severe loss of nature that has occurred in the UK since the 1960s. Between 1970 and 2013, 56% of species declined, with 40% showing strong or moderate declines (RSPB, 2016). With less wildlife being available due to species decline and urbanisation, this presents an opportunity for virtual reality. In order to create an affinity for nature, children must experience being in nature, and it is recommended the product focuses on animals. With animals being harder to spot due to decline, VR could replace these animals within both urban and countryside areas.  

The educational toys market has an annual growth rate of 20.2%, and revenues are predicted to more than double to $8.1 billion by 2022. With such a demand for educational toys from parents, one of the primary catalysts driving the global educational games market is innovation in Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality (Adkins, 2017). Incorporating this market demand will place the product as a market innovator.  Please see the primary catalysts driving the 2017-2022 Global Game-based Learning Market in Figure 1.

8 PRIMARY RESEARCH

8.1 Children's knowledge of nature questionnaire

To fully define the current gap in children's nature knowledge, a survey will be conducted. This is to understand if children from the city and countryside have a difference knowledge, and to understand how digital habits relate to this knowledge gap. This will be completed once Ethics is accepted. Please see the designed questionnaire in Appendix C, ready to be sent out.  

8.2 Parent preliminary Interview

A preliminary interview with parents of children aged 5 – 7 was conducted to understand parental attitudes towards technology, their child's safety and outdoor gaming. Co-design with parents will be used to define what features are fundamental from a caregivers role for digital experiences. Already, parents have suggested they are no comfortable with their children wearing virtual reality goggles due to trip hazards, which has molded initial ideation. Please see the full interview questions to be asked in Appendix C once Ethics has been accepted.

8.3 Park Usage Habits

It is estimated that each year well over half the UK population – some 33 million people – make more than 2.5 billion visits to urban green spaces alone. Park usage is increasing due to urbanisation, which provides a design opportunity to create nature affirming experiences within parks. In order to tailor the types of activities that families will complete, a survey at Leeds Castle Park, Kent, will be completed. This will define the type of service to provide that caters for the most popular activity amongst families, and highlight consumer trends such as how long consumers stay at the park etc.

8.4 Expert Interviews

To further discover nature-based learning activities provided for children involving nature, expert interviews with “learning rangers” and Scouts activity leaders will be conducted. This will help inform what type of activities interest children the most within this market.

8.5 Nature Trails for children

Bedgebury park in Kent, owned by the National Forestry commission, have adopted themed children's trails in a variety of their parks. The most popular trail, the Gruffalo trail, is a hunt for Gruffalo sculptures around the park. Experiencing this trail was essential to reviewing the positives and negatives of the system. A full analysis of the system can be seen in Appendix D. Generally, families found the VR app that came with the Gruffalo trail to be an added value experience, as the photos provided both parents with a memento, and children the interest of innovative technology. Adopting this system for educational nature trails could be highly captivating for the audience.

8.6 Children's activity packs

At select National Forestry parks, activity packs are available for purchase for £3.50 at information centres, using a popular children's story for the activity themes. These are paper based, and encourage children to complete activities such as making tree bark rubbings with crayons, find characters on the trail and learn about animals. Children are more excited by technology based gameification, so trail activity kits could be modernised into digital forms. Please see Appendix E, which shows the activity pack.

9 THE STAKEHOLDERS

9.1 Primary user

Aiming an educational nature product at 5 – 7 year olds would support the Key stage 1 & 2 science schooling curriculum whilst providing a fun gaming experience. “Easy” and “Harder” learning modes could be introduced to account for the range in ages and brain development, or even background knowledge of nature. Technology is an appropriate medium for learning about nature for this target market. There has been a steady increase in young children gaining access to the internet, with 79% of 5-7s online, with much of the growth coming from tablets. 63% use a tablet to go online, and 66% play games for nearly 7 ½ hours a week. This age group have an active interest in both technology and gaming.

Understanding this age groups cognitive development is vital to creating an appropriate nature experience. Children aged 5 – 7 are more interested in the process of making or doing something than they are with the end product. This age group are not ready cognitively, socially or emotionally for competition, as self-worth can be damaged if they are put in competitive situations. Often by 5 or 6 years, children have good communication skills.  They are better at using language in different ways e.g. discussing ideas or giving opinions.  Children develop skills at different rates, but beyond 5 years, usually children will be able to rely less on pictures and objects to learn new words.

9.2 Secondary Users

Other stakeholders include the parents, who will ultimately be buying the product. It must meet their needs concerning child safety, educational desires, involvement with the app itself and budget. Parents will be co-using the product to help 5 -7 year olds understand the product.

9.3 Parks/Green Spaces

Another stakeholder is the park/urban green space where the experience will take place. This will encourage more young families to visit natural areas, especially due to the educational element that relates to the national curriculum. Currently, the project is locating a park/area to base the service design on.

10 INITIAL RESEARCH CONCLUSION

Parental fears of stranger, urbanisation and limited access to green spaces and an increased draw to stay inside due to a technology surge has resulted in the “indoor generation”.A lack of time outdoors and in nature as children results in a wide range of negative effects, including a loss of natural knowledge and respect for the environment, which causes children to become less conservation-minded. To create a lasting affinity for nature, the experiences must be in nature, about nature, recurring, led over a significant period of time, richly affirming through the medium of play and supported by a caring adult.

Parents are more likely to purchase an educational game. The service should align with the National Curriculum, which teaches children about native wildlife in key stage 1 & 2. As play is an important part of a child's brain development, this must be included in the end educational gaming product. Children are more interested in nature-learning experiences that involve technology. Innovation in Virtual Reality is one of the primary catalysts driving the global educational games market, and consideration should be to design for this demand (Adkins, 2017).

In the current market, there are many educational nature apps and TV programmes, however these struggle to bridge the transition between indoor and outdoor experiences. Outdoor learning experiences are primarily directed at schools, where this form of experience is often not recurring. Of the Nature trails directed towards children, these are based on popular culture characters, and do not meet the Key stage 1 & 2 curriculum standards due to a lack of education about native animals and fauna.  

The objective of this project is to create a service that educates 5 – 7 year old children about nature, related to the National curriculum key stages 1 & 2, through outdoor gaming. It must create a long lasting affinity for nature, and must involve the caregivers who are concerned for children's safety. It should be designed to be easily integrated into green spaces and parks nationwide to promote the education of and involvement in nature.  

11 CONCEPT DIRECTIONS AND DEVELOPMENT

11.1 Design Process

The project must follow the design process represented through a Ghant chart in Appendix G, in order to meet the project deadline. Primary research and secondary research are used to fully define the problem, and a design brief is established. Further primary research must be conducted after BREO ethical acceptance to define the needs of the stakeholders and develop initial concepts and a project direction. This research must be completed by christmas in order to stay on track to allow design ideas to be developed. Design development will be an iterative process; using prototyping and market testing to continuously improve the product.

10.2 Key Function  The product must meet two core functions in order to meet the design brief; to encourage children to go outside and to encourage learning about nature through play. Following research and feedback, the product must also meet key stage 1 & 2 educational demands and allow for parent co-use with children's safety being fundamental to the experience. The product must be used in nature and be about nature in order for the experience to help create a life-long affirmation to nature.

11.1 Initial Design Direction Activity   Initial ideation has been completed in terms of function to create project directions. User testing and stakeholder feedback will narrow down the project to a single direction, allowing for futher developed project ideation. These concepts will then be prototyped and developed after user testing and stakeholder feedback. Research into manufacturing processes and materials will be completed whislt iterating the design, to achieve a high quality end product. Three initial concept directions were investigated after market research was completed. The initial project direction ideas can be seen in Appendix H.

11.2 Industrial Review Evening Feedback (21/11/18)

At the Industrial Review Evening, the three above project directions were presented as seen and explained in section 11.1. Feedback from experts gave insight into a number of design issues and project opportunities:

- The product and learning experience must be available to both city dwellers and countryside dwellers. This is particularly important as the country becomes more urbanised. It was suggested ideating further for a whole system service design for green spaces local to users that this product can be used at. This prompted research into educational services at parks, and the potential to make these family friendly for walk around visitors.

- It was suggested Parents might not feel comfortable letting children walk around with VR headsets on in natural spaces. This has directed idea development to be on a handheld device, and understanding parental concerns further through interviews.

- The concept could benefit by incorporating the ideas of kits with existing nature trails, which prompted further research in to children trial kits. There is design opportunity to update these, and make the trails educational and experiential.

- Parental safety concerns is one of the key underlying reasons children are staying indoors; perhaps the gaming element masks the primary use of the product: to track children to allow them outside for free play.

11.3 Design Direction

After initial idea directions and feedback, the next stage for the product is to specify a design direction through further stakeholder research and prototyping. This will be completed through user testing with 5-7 year olds, parent reviews of prototypes and further research into stakeholder needs.

The current project direction has been guided by industrial review feedback. The key direction looks at creating an educational gaming kit/system for green spaces and parks that can be easily implemented across the UK, in urban green spaces and parks, accessible to children from all backgrounds and be co-used by parents. The design should include both virtual and physical incentives.  Please see Appendix I for the initial service/product design ideas.

11 Patent and standards consideration

A patent search was conducted to see if similar products are currently protected. This resulted in one similar patent being found, however this has since been withdrawn in 2017. EP3195631A1's application was for a geographical location device to guide a user on an educational, recreational or commercial trail. It used waypoints to take the user along a particular path or tour. The can trigger and notify a user based on a location-based task or information board when the user is near the location for the task. This was withdrawn on 20th December 2017  (Google Patents, 2017).

 In terms of standards, as the product might result in an educational toy for children, it must meet the british standards for toy saftey, BS EN 71 series. Since July 2011, all toys sold in the European Union must comply with the European Toy Safety Directive 2009/48/EC, enacted in the UK as the Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011. If the toy does not comply, they it will be removed from sale and manufacturers face prosecution and possible imprisonment (British Standards Institute, n.d.).

11.3 THE NEXT STEPS FOR THE PROJECT

Selecting a design idea to develop through prototyping and user testing is the next stage, focusing further on the UX design of the product, total service systems design and human factors. Prototyping will be continuously used to develop the product until the product meets both the PDS and stakeholder needs. Understanding gameification reward systems and how to impliment this for the target market will be key to creating a fun, educational experience.

Further project objectives include conducting a product/ service life cycle to establish and minimise the product's environmental impact, developing a CAD model rendering of the final product along with working drawings, produce a full scale working prototype of the final product, collecting qualitative data to validate the effectiveness of the product, produce a marketing strategy and business plan for the potential launch of the product and produce a final written report and presentation that details the design process followed throughout the project and validating the product design.

12 CONCLUSION

The project is currently in the initial ideation and prototype development stage, after primary and secondary research has been used to understand the problem of children having a lack of respect for the environment, suggested due to spending the majority of their time indoors.  Primary research including looking into children's trail kits and VR app trails has been fundamental to understanding the market, and how to improve these products.

Further primary research must be conducted to shape the project direction and identify further stakeholder needs. Interviews with educational rangers will help inform what activities children of this age particularly enjoy, and a green space should be selected to base the service design on as an example. Primary and secondary research and feedback has guided to project towards improved modifications to the design process. More user testing and research will be essential in order to progress the concept's further, ensuring all PDS requirements and design brief are met, as well the as meeting the stakeholders needs.

DESIGN BRIEF

Background

The project direction was set by the author after learning that children are better at identifying Pokémon characters than common British wildlife names (Balmford et al., 2002). Filling in the nature knowledge gap through educational gaming will compliment the Key stage 1 & 2 national curriculum.

Helping children create a long-lasting appreciation for nature is important for the conservation of our future world. Research suggests children who took part in outdoor nature activities were more likely to have pro-environmental attitudes as adults, and a greater willingness to participate in environmentally friendly practices.

Research strongly suggests that children enjoy outdoor nature based activities, but prefer technology-enhanced activities when learning about the environment (Chavez, 2009). The market demands a product that can combine technology, particularly virtual/augumented/mixed reality, with educational outdoor gaming to create a genuine interest in nature. The product must consider caregiver roles and involvement in order for the product to be successful.

Children today have become indoor-bound and spend less time outdoors than any other generation, devoting just 4-7 minutes a day playing/exploring in green spaces, while spending an average of seven and a half hours in front of electronic media (National Recreation and Park Association, n.d.). This has resulted in a loss of natural knowledge and loss of respect for the environment. Causes of this indoor generation include an increased use of digital devices, urbanisation and parental fears. With the right design features, technology could help reconnect young people and their families to the natural world, rather than encourage children to stay indoors.

How can technology be designed to encourage children to go outside and learn about the environment through play to help craft pro-environmental attitudes as adults?

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