Did you grow up catching fireflies, playing in the creek, or building forts in your backyard? Most children in today’s world won’t, which means that when they grow up, they may not have a vested interest in protecting our natural resources and natural spaces. Environmental educators across North Carolina are working to change that.
Environmental education is critical for a sustainable future. It provides time in, and a connection to, the outdoors which research has shown to improve academic performance and physical, mental, and emotional health - making it just as important for our participants as it is for the planet. More than ever, children and adults need to know how ecological systems work and why they matter. The health of the environment is inseparable from humans’ well-being and economic prosperity. People require knowledge, tools and sensitivity to successfully address and solve environmental problems in their daily lives.
So What Is Environmental Education?
Environmental education (EE) is a learning process that increases people's knowledge and awareness about the environment and associated challenges, develops the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges, and fosters attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions and take responsible action. EE takes place in many places and formats, indoors and outdoors, but there are common threads:
“The field of EE is characterized by key underpinnings, including a focus on learners of all ages—from early childhood to seniors. It focuses on the importance of experiential, interdisciplinary education, and helping all learners develop problem solving and decision-making skills, understand how to be a civically engaged citizen, and how to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable society. EE also advances key societal issues—from the Next Generation Science Standards to STEM to climate change education.”
Environmental Education Works
Over the last few decades, thousands of studies have been completed to analyze the effectiveness of EE. “The studies clearly showed that students taking part in environmental education programming gained knowledge about the environment. But the studies also showed that learning about the environment is just the tip of the iceberg.” (NAAEE)
This research has demonstrated that environmental education:
Environmental Education Promotes Environmental Literacy
“Environmental education is a resource that transcends the classroom—both in character and scope. In the classroom and beyond, the desired outcome of environmental education is environmental literacy. What is Environmental Literacy? In North Carolina, environmental literacy is defined as the ability to make informed decisions about issues affecting shared natural resources while balancing cultural perspectives, the economy, public health and the environment.
An environmentally literate citizen:
Environmental literacy is dependent upon formal education opportunities as well as nonformal education about the environment that takes place in settings such as parks, zoos, nature centers, community centers, youth camps, etc. It is the combination of these formal and nonformal experiences that leads to an environmentally literate citizenry. North Carolina requires an environmentally literate citizenry who make informed decisions about complex environmental issues affecting the economy, public health and safety, and shared natural resources, such as the water, air and land on which life depends.”
What Can You Do?
Learn more about the organizations and research supporting environmental education.
Increase our efforts to support North Carolina’s classroom teachers, naturalists, park rangers, nonformal educators, government employees, students and volunteers by contributing to EENC.
Spread the word. Encourage your kids’ teachers to get involved. Volunteer at your local environmental education center. Become an environmental educator. Join our community.