Environmental Education in the K-12 Classroom

by: Cathy Habas

Environmental education is important for children to learn in schools for two main reasons: to help guide each child into becoming a responsible, environmentally-conscious citizen, and to help inspire the next generation of scientists and innovators.

And there’s an exceptional need to incorporate an understanding of the environment into more classrooms. In 2013, researchers found a wide gap between the scientific and public perspectives on climate change, with just 41 percent of the public and a whopping 97% of scientists understanding climate change to be influenced by human activity. Things didn’t look much better back in 2000, when only one-third of respondents passed a basic environmental knowledge survey.

Knowledge of the environment is something that must be shared by everyone if we can honestly expect people to share the responsibility for the health of the planet. When only a few people believe it is important to respect the environment, it is difficult to protect the delicate balance of life on Earth.

What could be better than instilling that respect with the up-and- coming generations via integrative environmental education? Children learn lifelong critical thinking skills when taught to reflect on the impact of their actions on the environment. They learn to devise creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems.

Educators around the world have praised environmental education as the perfect opportunity for integrated learning, where all of the core subjects can be used while learning about the environment. Students use myriad areas of science to understand the cause-and- effect of deforestation, extinction, greenhouse gases and more. Math is used to chart changes over time. Analytical and problem-solving skills are put to the test with real-life problems. Writing and language skills can be used to effectively communicate findings to others, and inter-personal skills are developed when students work together to solve a problem. History and social studies can be integrated when students are taught about the impact of legislation on the environment. And environmental education naturally lends itself to increased time spent outdoors, which benefits the mental and physical health of children.

If adopted across the board, environmental education invests in the future by giving the next generation the necessary tools for understanding complicated environmental issues. At the very least, children can carry this knowledge with them as adults and make decisions as simple as recycling a soda can versus throwing it out. At best, however, children can be inspired to expand their knowledge as environmental scientists, produce effective solutions as engineers, enact regulatory legislation as politicians, make environmentally-friendly decisions as business owners, and more.

With so many benefits on the table, the decision to adapt an environmental curriculum is like the decision to recycle a soda can: it’s a no-brainer.

Cathy Habas is a professional freelance writer, editor and translator from Louisville, Kentucky. Currently, she is the content marketer for DirtWirx, a company based in Houston. 

Click here to learn more about PEA's environmental education programs.