Why Educate Kids about the Environment and Sustainability?
Primary education is an important phase in the development of kids and often determines how they will fare as adults. It is an age when the core aspects of their behaviour is defined, when they become socially aware and also exhibit empathy and care for all living things. It is often at school that kids learn moral values that hold them in good stead for the rest of their lives and become responsible changemakers of tomorrow.
That is what makes it so important to spark an interest in protecting the environment and care for their natural surroundings in their formative years. At school we should teach kids to make caring for nature part of their lives, as opposed to just studying it so that they incorporate green thinking into everything they do. Forming an ecological mindset and using it to overcome environmental challenges with a proactive attitude and a strong commitment, is what will make them future thinkers and leaders.
Including environmental education in schools is now being demanded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Irina Bokova, the Organization's Director, was keen to stress this message during the 9th World Environmental Education Congress (WEEC), which took place in Vancouver in 2017.
According to UNESCO, there are four reasons to provide children with environmental education:
- To make them more aware and conscious of environmental problems.
- To boost their interest in caring for and improving the environment.
- To enhance their ability to learn about their surroundings.
- To broaden their ecological knowledge in subjects such as energy, landscapes, air, water, natural resources and wildlife.
Benefits of environmental education for kids
1. Nature Nurtures and Instils Passion for the Environment
Simply put, spending time outside will make you care more about the environment. Caring more about the environment will make you want to spend more time outside.
Nature allows kids to be…kids. How many of us have amazing memories of running in open fields, climbing trees, collecting rocks and shells and imitating the calls of animals and birds. Nature is all about fun, laughter and incredible memories.
Exploring the great outdoors and being in the midst of nature offers an antidote to the plugged-in lives of today’s generation, which is the first to grow up indoors. Children who experience school grounds or play areas with diverse natural settings are more physically active, more aware of good nutrition, more creative, and more civil to one another.
Growing up with nature ensures kids form a deep bond and respect for it that lasts a lifetime.
2. Encourage Children to Form Sustainable Habits
Environmental education teaches kids that even small actions can make big differences. In other words, environmental education is about taking action. Children get the chance to adopt new habits and employ them in their everyday life, however inconsequential they may seem. After all, it all adds up!
They learn about:
- Riding a bike instead of being driven
- Planting trees and a garden
- Turning water off while brushing teeth
- Turning lights off when not in use
- Bringing reusable bags to shop
- Eating less meat and more fruits and veggies
- Wasting less
Young kids often learn by observing and, to a large extent, mimicking actions of others around them, especially those they are closely associated with. This includes parents, teachers, grandparents and siblings amongst others.
Hence, unless you lead by example and practice what you preach it may all go to waste. Also be sure to explain to your kids why these actions are important and how their habits are contributing to the environment.
You can also gamify this by creating a leaderboard at home or making them family bonding activities. Play makes everything fun while ensuring the learning is instilled for life, so it’s always a great idea to make simple activities more engaging.
The habits they adopt will stick with them forever, and help them be a part of a better, more aware and more active generation.
3. Improves Academic Achievement
Environmental education also has other positive effects on young people, especially in their learning and development. Environmental education has proven to improve test scores by providing students with engaging lessons about the natural world that can be applied to all subject areas and grades.
In 2017, Stanford University studied how this subject affects school children all the way from infant school to high school. After researching more than a hundred scientific studies published on the subject from 1994 to 2013 by other institutions, they concluded that 83% of schoolchildren improved their ecological behaviour and 98% scored better in other subjects such as math and science.
4. Improves Skills beyond the Curriculum
Kids are fascinated by the natural world – discovering new things, learning about its wonders and experiencing the mystery of the unknown. Hence, students are more enthusiastic, more engaged in learning and tend to be more curious. This not only helps their academic performance but also improves allied skills, especially life skills like creative thinking, imagination, decision making and even teamwork!
Environmental education presents opportunities for experiential learning outside of the classroom and enables students to apply their learning in the real world. Students are encouraged to research, investigate how and why things happen, and make their own decisions about complex environmental issues. It provides clarity to learners about how social, ecological, economic, cultural, and political issues are all connected.
5. Moral Values are Developed
One of the key benefits of environmental education is that it develops a strong and steady moral compass in children. This intuition and instinct of right and wrong also tends to stay with them for their entire lives!
Research has shown that being amidst nature makes us more calm, observant and patient. It teaches sensitivity, appreciation, respect, care and empathy for not just each other but for all living things. It fosters a sense of belonging and the need to preserve our surroundings.
Knowledge about the environment encourages students to analyse and investigate varying sides of issues to gain the full picture. It promotes tolerance of different points of view, opinions, preferences and different cultures.
It also promotes a sense of place and connection through community involvement. When students decide to improve their environment, they reach out to experts, organizations, donors, volunteers, and local facilities to help bring the community together and address pertinent issues impacting their neighborhood.
6. Builds a Healthy Lifestyle
The goal of environmental education is not just to provide facts, opinions and information about the environment to students but to get them to become curious and passionate about it. A by product of this urge to investigate and explore is the need to be out and about in the environment. Why just watch and read when you can see and do!
This 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. Sustainable practices and good nutrition is often emphasized through environmental education and stress is reduced due to increased time spent in nature.
After all, taking care of the environment starts with taking care of yourself!
Read here about the most effective ways to educate kids about the environment.