The National Science Foundation conceived the term STEM with an emphasis on the links between economic prosperity and knowledge-intensive jobs that are dependent on science and technology. As such, traditionally STEM subject initiatives have aligned with and facilitated a largely economic conceptualisation of human and social development. It seems likely that the wellbeing crisis that we are experiencing in the West is linked to this. This is compounded by the rising influence of technology which has facilitated what is sometimes called the indoorisation of children, and the raised levels of parental concern about safety. From this follows an associated sense of disenfranchisement for children, with consequences for their wellbeing and happiness.
This chapter begins with an overview of the impact of STEM on wellbeing, arguing that a focus on human development after Sen and Nussbaum is a more holistic approach to understanding wellbeing. In this understanding, wellbeing arises from an entanglement of threads representing the different elements of an individual’s life, such as their physical health, their social networks, their access to wild, natural and outdoor spaces, and so forth. This chapter focuses specifically on this access to wild, natural and outdoor spaces (using the arts and arts-based research to mediate this access) to consider how the capability approach provides a foundation for a broadly conceived notion of wellbeing that incorporates environmental sustainability, social justice and future economic wellbeing. Nussbaum’s list of capabilities is used as a framework with which to analyse focus group data from artists working with the arts-based charity Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination (CCI). The chapter concludes by considering how working with artists as co-researchers and how the co-development of artwork between children and artists might expose a more holistic understanding of the entangled roles of art and wild/natural/outdoor spaces in the wellbeing of young people. In so doing the chapter adds to conceptualisations of childhoodnature which seek to demonstrate that children and nature are inextricably linked through shared characteristics such as freedom and a non-linear view of time.