How the landscape is created and how this relates to different societal goals for children are important theoretical questions for the field of geography. Valuable theory has been generated in recent years on how space is socially-produced and how the landscapes we occupy both reflect and influence our social relationships. But little research has yet been carried out on the everyday geography of children in the USA. This research is placed in the center of this theory-building effort by addressing the role of parents within the set of larger forces that create different landscapes and material worlds for children. It is very clear from a variety of sources that the geography of childhood has changed dramatically throughout the industrialized nations in the past three decades. This study generates new theory on the changing nature of childhood by offering a comprehensive account of how children's spatial behavior and transactions with the physical environment have changed in one community. It takes advantage of a unique opportunity to replicate research from thirty years ago of the geography of children in one New England town in order to highlight the changing forces that are influencing parents and children aged four to twelve. There are two components to the research: a straightforward cross-sectional comparison of the geography of children in the community today with the children of the same community in 1974, and an in-depth longitudinal study with the families of the parents, who participated in the original research as children and who are now living in the same town or elsewhere in New England. The cross-sectional data will involve interviewees with children in order to investigate spatial restrictions on their daily activities, their spatial patterns of activities and how they differentiate and use places, alone and with others. Aggregate analyses will be made with all of the community's approximately ninety, children aged between four and twelve. The longitudinal research involves the use of multiple methodologies with both children and parents. In addition to the kinds of data collected in the cross-sectional study, it will investigate the degree of agency children have in using different types of places, parent's monitoring practices regarding children's activities and how rules are negotiated with children. Also, parent's will be asked about their beliefs regarding the forces that influence their children's spatial activities and the qualities that they find in their everyday physical landscape and will be asked to discuss the factors that influence how they manage their children. Integrated maps and charts of the data will be made for each family and these family profiles of children's geographies will be reviewed in relation to the different orientations of parents: their stated goals for their children, their beliefs regarding children's development and a composite measure of their child-rearing style.

This research will inform the growing national debate on the changing nature of children's free time and play opportunities. Public awareness of the issue of the changing nature of children's spatial lives has grown recently in the USA in relation to the new national health concern with obesity in children. But the nature of the change is much more than just reduced physical activity. The research will provide valuable understanding to environmental policy makers, planners, recreation professionals and environmental educators about the kinds of experiences that children seek in the outdoors and how these are changing. It will also provide the basis for designing methods that will enable other communities, throughout the USA, to document and discuss how accessible their environments are to children and what opportunities they afford for their development and well-being. In the academic world it is hoped that the research will be valuable in demonstrating the potential of bringing the theories and methods of geography and developmental psychology together.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Thomas J. Baerwald
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CUNY Graduate School University Center
New York
United States
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