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What is Environmental Education? 

Environmental education 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.

Why Does Environmental Education Matter?

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. 

Elementary school student uses a sieve to explore a rocky creek.
Students wear waders and use nets to explore a river.

Environmental education...has the power to transform lives and society. It informs and inspires. It influences attitudes. It motivates action. Environmental education is a key tool in expanding the constituency for the environmental movement and creating healthier and more civically-engaged communities.
-North American Association for Environmental 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:

  • Has widespread public support

  • Improves standardized test scores and academic performance

  • Promotes 21st century skills such as critical thinking, oral communication, analytical skills, problem solving, and higher-order thinking

  • Supports STEM topics and is interdisciplinary

  • Bolsters civic engagement and empowerment

  • Sparks stewardship behavior and environmental actions

  • Encourages students’ personal growth including teamwork, confidence, autonomy, and leadership

  • Increases motivation and interest in learning

  • Is an “equalizer” allowing educators to cater to multiple student interests, skills, abilities, and special needs,Helps improve teacher skills and classroom engagement

  • Is a cost-effective investment, promoting multiple environmental and societal benefits, and

  • Strengthens communities by connecting schools to local organizations and agencies.

To learn more about the original research, you can check out eeWorks and the Children’s and Nature Network’s Research Library.

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: 

  • Understands how natural systems and human social systems work and relate to one another,

  • Combines this understanding with personal attitudes and experiences to analyze various facets of environmental issues,

  • Develops the skills necessary to make responsible decisions based on scientific, economic, aesthetic, political, cultural and ethical considerations; and 

  • Practices personal and civic responsibility for decisions affecting our shared natural resources.

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.” - North Carolina’s Environmental Literacy Plan

Ways to Get Involved in Environmental Education

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.

Want a printable copy of this information to share?  We have two PDF versions available:

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