Culture, Environmental Experience and Environmental Awareness: Making Sense of Young Kenyan Children’s Views of Place

Few studies have explicitly examined the importance of cultural settings to children’s environmental awareness, especially in a non-Western context. In this paper, the author reviews those studies which have drawn attention to how culture affects children’s behaviour in large-scale environments and refers to an empirical study of a group of young Kenyan children which examines the relationship between environmental experience and environmental awareness. The findings are interesting for three principal reasons. First, they demonstrate that children who are without formal training and with limited access to maps are able to draw relatively sophisticated place representations and to recall their local environment in vivid terms. Secondly, these maps and place descriptions are different to those of their age-sex-counterparts from Britain, which suggests that culture influences expressive style if not cognitive ability. Thirdly, they suggest that further studies, set within other cross-cultural contexts, are needed, if the importance of culture to environmental capability is to be understood. The author argues that although geographers are well-placed to carry out this kind of investigation little geo- graphical research on children’s place relationships has been undertaken. In this sense, geographers are particularly remiss and are guilty of forgetting their ‘roots’.