Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Geography

Committee Chair

Jeffrey A. Gritzner

Commitee Members

Elizabeth Masciale-Walmer, Sarah Halvorson


animals, bark, building, bushes, campus, childhood experiences, childhood nature experiences, childhood outdoor experiences, cones, creating, dirt, earth, education, emotional connections, environment, environmental education, experiential, forts, geograp


University of Montana


ABSTRACT Garella, Jeanine Sandra, M.A., Autumn 2010 Geography Geographilia in Children’s Urban Spaces: Investigating How Children Explore Outdoor Places and Connect With Natural Objects Chairperson: Jeffrey A. Gritzner The benefits children receive from outdoor play time are well documented by scholars across many disciplines. Interacting within an unstructured natural setting can foster physical, social, emotional, and spiritual growth. The lessons learned in such an environment not only help children reach developmental milestones; they also play an important role in the formation of beliefs and attitudes used in decision-making processes later in life. This is a significant point to make when one considers the crucial dynamics that exist between human activity and the wellbeing of the Earth. Decisions to take action to care for and preserve the Earth are influenced by how one feels about it. Indeed, the future health of the planet depends upon the quality of the exposure humans have to natural places and objects. Ultimately, the way a person understands and connects to the Earth can lead to a certain level of lived sustainability. This thesis describes how “geographilia,” or a love for the Earth, unfolds in children by examining the ways in which elementary children explore the outdoors in their urban Montessori school yard. Using primary methods of participant observation, mapping, and structured group interviews (as well as supplementary photographs), the researcher investigates three key aspects of children’s exploration during their independent play in recess and their loosely supervised periods of physical education: 1) elements and places in the environment that are significant to the children; 2) ways children choose to interact with the environment when freed from immediate adult guidance; and 3) the children’s explanations of what they value in their explorations of the natural world. This research investigates how the children participating in the study carefully observe nature and make discoveries while working with natural objects. The researcher documents how children spend time outside each day throughout the year through hands-on opportunities exploring natural elements. The research shows that children build history with place while engaging in environmental lessons such as those involving seasonal changes, daily weather, and the changing surface of the landscape; and reflect on many higher-order issues such as life and death, stewardship of self, and the human-Earth relationship. Children’s actual experience with this natural space over time links them to one another, place, nature, and the Earth. The relationship forged early over time in childhood appears to have a significant impact on their lifelong connections with and relationship to the Earth. The development of love for the Earth, or geographilia, is reported in this work.



© Copyright 2010 jeanine sandra garella