Environmental Education

How can we effectively teach students environmental issues?

Background Knowledge: What is Environmental Education?

"The primary goal of environmental education is to develop citizens who are knowledgeable about the world around them and involved in working toward a more livable future"

Environmental Education is best known as a concept that informs students about the world around them, providing opportunities to experience nature and develop a sense of wonder about nature. The goal and primary focus of EE is to "develop a world population that is aware of, and concerned about, the environment and its associated problems and which has the knowledge, skills, attitudes motivations, and commitment to work individually and collectively toward solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones" (NAAEE, 2010, pg 3).
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What are the benefits of Environmental Education?


  1. Imagination and enthusiasm are heightened -
    EE is hands-on, interactive learning that sparks the imagination and unlocks creativity. When EE is integrated into the curriculum, students are more enthusiastic and engaged in learning, which raises student achievement in core academic areas.

  2. Learning transcends the classroom -
    Not only does EE offer opportunities for experiential learning outside of the classroom, it enables students to make connections and apply their learning in the real world. EE helps learners see the interconnectedness of social, ecological, economic, cultural, and political issues.

  3. Critical and creative thinking skills are enhanced -
    EE encourages students to research, investigate how and why things happen, and make their own decisions about complex environmental issues. By developing and enhancing critical and creative thinking skills, EE helps foster a new generation of informed consumers, workers, as well as policy or decision makers.

  4. Tolerance and understanding are supported -
    EE encourages students to investigate varying sides of issues to understand the full picture. It promotes tolerance of different points of view and different cultures.

  5. State and national learning standards are met for multiple subjects -
    By incorporating EE practices into the curriculum, teachers can integrate science, math, language arts, history, and more into one rich lesson or activity, and still satisfy numerous state and national academic standards in all subject areas. Taking a class outside or bringing nature indoors provides an excellent backdrop or context for interdisciplinary learning.

  6. Biophobia and nature deficit disorder decline -
    By exposing students to nature and allowing them to learn and play outside, EE fosters sensitivity, appreciation, and respect for the environment. It combats “nature deficit disorder” … and it’s FUN!

  7. Healthy lifestyles are encouraged -
    EE gets students outside and active, and helps address some of the health issues we are seeing in children today, such as obesity, attention deficit disorders, and depression. Good nutrition is often emphasized through EE and stress is reduced due to increased time spent in nature.

  8. Communities are strengthened -
    EE promotes a sense of place and connection through community involvement. When students decide to learn more or take action to improve their environment, they reach out to community experts, donors, volunteers, and local facilities to help bring the community together to understand and address environmental issues impacting their neighborhood.

  9. Responsible action is taken to better the environment -
    EE helps students understand how their decisions and actions affect the environment, builds knowledge and skills necessary to address complex environmental issues, as well as ways we can take action to keep our environment healthy and sustainable for the future. Service-learning programs offered by PLT and other EE organizations provide students and teachers with support through grants and other resources for action projects.

  10. Students and teachers are empowered -
    EE promotes active learning, citizenship, and student leadership. It empowers youth to share their voice and make a difference at their school and in their communities. EE helps teachers build their own environmental knowledge and teaching skills. I hope these “top ten” benefits will give you the confidence and commitment to incorporate EE into your curriculum!
The Value of Environmental Education

Published on Dec 10, 2013

Environmental education connects people and nature, prepares students for the future, empowers environmental stewards of all ages, builds community, and changes lives. Visit the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) website to learn more: http://naaee.net

What do teachers need to know about Environmental Education?

"In order to address the limitations of the current system of environmental education in U.S. public schools significant changes must be made in the areas of teaching and learning structure, curriculum, and evaluation"(Copley, L, pg 2).

Teachers and Educators implementing Environmental Education into their classroom must recognize the broad view that environmental education takes, incorporating concepts such as "systems, interdependence, and interactions among humans, other living organisms, the physical environment, and the built or designed environment" as well as understand the "interdisciplinary perspective" that early childhood education and environmental education share (NAAEE, 2010, pg 53). Educators must also be able to understand and integrate knowledge of EE into other academic disciplines.

According to the NAAEE Guidelines for Excellence, the need for educators to be active learners in their profession is understood; they should:

  • Identify and practice ways of continually updating information about the enviornment and early childhood pedagogy, current research, current research, environmental education materials, and instructional methods
  • Reflect on and learn from personal practice as an early childhood environmental educator both individually and with other professionals and colleagues
  • Seek opportunities to learn essential content and skills in real-world environmental settings or contexts, especially within the communities and ecosystems in which they live and teach
  • Identify and use methods for presenting the environment or environmental concerns in appropriate and engaging ways for learners of different ages, backgrounds, levels of knowledge, and developmental abilities
  • Select environmental education materials and strategies that are developmentally appropriate
  • Recognize and acknowledge the validity of varying cultural perspectives present in a group of learners; tailor instructional approaches to respond to the perspectives and use them as an educational resource


In the current public school curriculums across the US, there is little opportunity to integrate Environmental Education. The material covered in classrooms today is constrained by state and federal standardized tests and it is difficult to integrate EE into the curriculum. Teachers already struggle to "cover topics encouraged by state academic standards, as they find it more and more necessary to teach the test" (Copley, pg 4). A focus on testing is very unfortunate, when studies have shown, "emphasizing local environmental problems significantly increases students' emotional investment and participation" (Copley, pg 4).

Environmental Education is significant in early childhood education because it includes, "the development of a sense of wonder; appreciation for the beauty and mystery of the natural world; opportunities to experience that joy of closeness to nature; and respect for other creatures" (NAAEE, 2010, pg 1).

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What I Learned

More than 8 in 10 Americans live in cities, separated from the natural world by walls of concrete and steel

"Nature may be a nice place to visit, but we don't live there. Or do we? No matter where we live, the air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the energy that powers our cars, lights, and other electronic devices from nature. Even when we pave it over, nature still surrounds us, making possible our very existence."

-National Environmental Education Foundation

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By implementing environmental education into curriculums, students will have a better understanding for the world and the issues raised about it. There are a variety of sources available to teachers to implement controversial issues effectively in their classrooms, including environmental education. There are multiple ways to easily integrate EE into the classroom through literature, literacy, science projects, problem solving, and other academic requirements within the curriculum. Students would be given the opportunity to be exposed to new knowledge about real world issues occurring, like in the environment, and still be able to meet objectives.


Copley, L. Environmental Education in the US Public Schools: Fostering a Culture of Sustainability. Macalester College.

McLaughlin, M. (2014, December). Educating Children on the Environment. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from http://childrenandtheenviornment.weebly.com

Simmons, B., McCrea, E., Gay, M., Herrmann, L., Hutchinson, L., Pistillo, M. B., … Wirth, S. (2010). Early Childhood Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence. National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education, NAAEE. (2-7, 11-17, 19-23, 25-29, 31-43, 53-58, 69-70).

Toth, S. (2013) . Top 10 Benefits of Environmental Education. Project Learning Tree Blog. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from (https://www.plt.org/blog-top-10-benefits-of-environmental-education