Tomorrow’s leaders need to be equipped for tomorrow’s challenges, and we must adequately prepare our children for the future they will inherit. That requires a commitment to providing children with environmental education that helps them become the educated thought leaders of tomorrow.
Breaking the Indoor Habit
America is in the midst of one of the most profound and rapid societal shifts in history. Today’s generation of children is the first to grow up indoors. Their plugged-in lives are often devoid of exploring the natural world. Consider these facts:
- American children ages 3 -12 spend 27 percent of their time each week watching television, and only 1 percent outdoors (Hofferth & Sadberg, 2001)
- Children ages 8 – 18 engaged in over seven hours of media time (e.g., watching TV, listening to music, using the Internet/computer, playing video games) each day (Rideout, Foehr & Roberts, 2010)
- Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of U.S. children and adolescents aged 2—19 years were obese in 2008 (Ogden & Carroll, 2010)
- In 2000 two-thirds of the public failed a basic environmental quiz and 88 percent failed a basic energy quiz (Coyle, 2005)
This movement indoors is not benign; there are costs to the health of our children: attention difficulties, hyperactivity, childhood obesity, diminished use of senses, disconnect from things that are real. Additionally, if children are detached from nature, how will they learn about, understand, and value nature? How will the next generation care about the land and be stewards of its resources?
Raising an environmentally literate generation of problem solvers will help ensure that tomorrow’s decision-makers are prepared for the challenges they will likely face. Studies have shown environmental education engages students in learning, raising test scores, and encouraging youth to pursue career in environmental and natural resources.
Benefits of Environmental Education
Research suggests that environmental education brings a slew of benefits to students. A few key findings include:
- Studying EE Creates Enthusiastic Students, Innovative Teacher-Leaders – EE offers opportunities for rich, hands-on, real world and relevant learning across the curriculum (Archie, 2003).
- EE Helps Build Critical Thinking, and Relationship Skills – Environment-based education emphasizes specific critical thinking skills central to “good science”—questioning, investigating, forming hypotheses, interpreting data, analyzing, developing conclusions, and solving problems (Archie, 2003).
- EE Instructional Strategies Help Foster Leadership Qualities – Environmental education emphasizes cooperative learning (i.e., working in teams or with partners), critical thinking and discussion, hands-on activities, and a focus on action strategies with real-world applications (NAAEE & NEETF, 2001).
- Self-Control/Self Discipline Benefits for Children with ADD – Taylor and her colleagues found that children with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) benefited from more exposure to nature –the greener a child’s everyday environment, the more manageable are the symptoms of ADD (Taylor, 2001).
- Increased Focus/Improved Cognition – Wells observed that proximity to nature, access to views of nature, and daily exposure to natural settings increases the ability of children to focus and improves cognitive abilities. (Wells, 2000).
- Health Benefits – At the school environment level Bell and Dyment observed that 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. (Bell, 2006).
How Project Learning Tree Makes a Difference
Schools are a place to teach students about complex environmental issues, preparing them to be good stewards for the environment. Project Learning Tree curriculum resources provide educators with peer-reviewed, award winning materials to engage their students.
PLT is one of the most widely-used environmental education programs in America. Today as more children are disconnected from nature, 500,000+ teachers have been trained to use PLT curriculum, opening a door to this country’s outdoor natural heritage for 75 million students.
Our schools need more encouragement, resources, and time to devote attention to environmental education. They need funding and other support to train teachers to incorporate environmental education into their everyday lesson plans and to develop the confidence and skills to take their students outdoors to learn.