Voices from the Mountains: Children's Sense of Place in Northern New Mexico

EPA Grant Number: U915605
Title: Voices from the Mountains: Children's Sense of Place in Northern New Mexico
Investigators: Derr, Victoria L.
Institution: Yale University
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: September 1, 1999 through August 1, 2001
Project Amount: $56,470
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (1999) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Sociology , Environmental Justice , Academic Fellowships


The overall objective of this research project was to examine children's place experiences within the specific social, cultural, and ecological context of three communities in northern New Mexico. Through this research, I address the questions:

• Is there an "extinction of experience" (i.e., do children really have diminished experiences with nature)?

• Is it the nature of experience or the experience of nature that matters (i.e., is this a romanticized notion or does nature provide something unique and important to children)?

• What are place attachments made of, and why do they matter (i.e., do they provide psychological benefits to children, and do they create caring behavior toward the environment)?


The approach has been primarily ethnographic. During an exploratory phase of research, I used mapping, composition analysis, and semistructured interviews with children in three communities (one urban and two rural). In a more in-depth phase of research, I used interviews and place expeditions with focus children, and conducted interviews with parents and grandparents of these children.

Expected Results:

Northern New Mexico contains a mosaic of landscapes: vast stretches of piñon and juniper, ragged red hills, valleys of cottonwoods, and irrigated farms that rest beneath the pine covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Many of the Hispanic families who live in this region share similar histories and settlement patterns, occupying the area for more than 400 years. In many ways, these children share a unique cultural heritage in the United States, but the different ways that they respond to their environment illustrates the importance of understanding children's sense of place on multiple levels. Through a presentation of children's cases, I will discuss the varying ways children's experiences are shaped by differences in their outdoor environments, and by a diversity of family settings, individual preferences, and the unique character of each community. These cases show that it is important to consider children's place experiences for planning and education.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, sense of place, planning, children's place experiences, environmental education.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2000
  • Final