Changing places: children's experience of place during middle childhood
This thesis explores the role of special places—forts, dens, and hideouts— during middle childhood (ages 6-12). Natural settings have traditionally been children’s special places. Research has demonstrated the importance of outdoor special places in children’s lives including: helping children to develop and form bonds with the earth, and as locations for both privacy and socialization. The landscape of today’s childhood is undergoing dramatic shifts and researchers posit that children’s special places are shifting toward indoor settings. This thesis seeks to understand children’s experience of place in the Humboldt Bay region of Northern California. ‘Children-centered,’ qualitative research methods include interviews and an analysis of participants’ drawings and photographs. This thesis primarily examines how children’s special places contribute to child development, place attachment, and environmental stewardship values. More generally, this thesis asks children to reveal what places they consider to be ‘special.’ Results build on previous research and suggest several findings concerning the significance of children’s special places. First, children still prefer outdoor places as their special places. Second, outdoor special places are important for holistic physical, cognitive, and social development. Third, both indoor and outdoor special places are vital to children’s emotional development because these places act as refuges and sites for emotional regulation. Fourth, children care deeply about their outdoor special places and express environmental stewardship values concerning these places. And last, special places facilitate healthy place attachments. This thesis recommends that people who are involved in the processes and structures that shape children’s lives recognize the value of outdoor special places and provide children with time, freedom, and access to natural landscapes.