Children’s perceptions of the natural environment: creating child and environmentally friendly cities
A child friendly city (CFC) is the embodiment of the rights of the child manifested in the policies, programs, and laws of a city. A critical aspect in the creation of a CFC is the consideration of the natural environment (NE). Premised upon a child participatory perspective, this study explored the manner in which adolescents perceive and attach meaning to the NE, as there is limited research concerning this. The primary aim of the study was to investigate children’s perceptions of the NE, and within this process to elucidate the meanings that children attach to environmental issues, and how these meanings contribute toward the creation of CFC’s. This study employed the broad epistemological position of social constructionism, and the theoretical framework of the Person-environment (P-E) fit theory. Methodologically, a qualitative research design was adopted, employing focus group interviews as the method of data collection. The study was conducted in an impoverished community on the Cape Flats in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Four focus group interviews were conducted with two groups of 8 children between the ages of 13 and 14 in grade 9. Thematic Analysis was utilised to analyse and interpret the findings. The findings indicate that the participants perceive the NE through the lens of safety as natural areas in the community are characterised by crime, violence, pollution, and a haven for gangsters. The participants’ worldviews appear to be permeated with this milieu of danger which is pervasive in their community. Although the participants express the need to engage in the NE, their mobility is greatly restricted due to their own, parental, or guardians fears of threat. There is evidently incongruence between the participants’ expectations for the NE, and the reality of the unsafe nature of the NE. The participants thus fall outside the prevailing categories of the social and cultural construction of childhood, as they undergo an immense burden of adversity and suffering which breaches what childhood is supposed to signify.Along with many children in South Africa, the participants are exposed to an escalating level of crime and community violence which has a negative impact upon their sense of wellbeing,their ability to negotiate their mobility and to freely explore NE’s, and engage in childled initiatives to counteract impending safety and security concerns within their communities.It was also found that the participants consider the natural world as crucial in the creation of a CFC. Ultimately, the participants revealed that their community is not child friendly, and thereby suggest the requirement for a child and environmentally friendly city. The participants therefore proposed that environmental education (EE) be incorporated into the school curriculum to instil a greater awareness of environmental issues among their peers.