Considering Autonomous Exploration in Healthy Environments: Reflections from an Urban Wildscape

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 12;18(22):11867. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182211867.


Autonomous exploration should be considered in the creation of healthy environments since autonomy is an important developmental experience for children. For a group of boys in Raleigh, N.C., U.S. during the period 2002-2006, autonomous exploration was a meaningful experience. Results of a qualitative research project (n = 5) which highlight the importance of autonomous exploration are organized within a proposed framework for thick description. The framework creates verisimilitude by reporting on the context, social action and cultural context, and behavior and intentionality. The context of Raleigh and urban wildscapes furnished areas ripe for exploration. The social action and cultural context of attachment supported the autonomous exploration through scaffolded experiences of autonomy. The intentionality of the behavior was a desire to distinct themselves through a focus on individual development and the pursuit of extraordinary experiences. The ultimate outcomes of autonomous exploration for the boys were the development of long-term, intimate friendships and confidence in their decision-making ability. As cities become more health-focused, attention should be paid to preserve the rough edges of a city for children to explore.

Keywords: attachment; autonomy; children and nature; free-range parenting; thick description.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Environment*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Qualitative Research