Schools should consider starting environmental education as early as possible—ideally, in elementary school or even as early as pre-K.
It’s crucial for kids to learn how to care for nature and use resources wisely. Our future, and the future of this planet, is in their hands.
In this article, we discuss how environmental education can affect a child’s behavior, learning, and values. We also provide a few ideas for incorporating environmental education activities into the classroom.
Not only does Springside Chestnut Hill (SCH) Academy promote sustainability, our school is also home to one of the largest solar panel arrays in the city of Philadelphia.
How Does Environmental Education Affect Kids?
Environmental education can have a significant impact on your child’s behavior, learning, and values.
This type of education teaches kids to become environmental stewards—to be responsible users and protectors of nature through sustainable practices and conservation efforts.
Children learn how their actions affect their environment, while developing a sense of personal responsibility with regard to their surroundings.
Research by Stanford University reveals that 83% of school children taking part in environmental education programs have improved their ecological behaviors. However, the effects of environmental education programs don’t end there. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies have found that these programs have a positive academic impact as well.
Researchers have seen increased aptitude in areas such as science and mathematics, as well as increased enthusiasm and motivation for learning about the environment in other disciplines such as creative fields and the arts.
The Benefits of Environmental Education
Raising kids' environmental awareness
The goal of environmental education is to make caring for nature an integral part of kids’ lives, rather than something they study at school and don’t consider outside the classroom. Students at SCH
Environmental education helps raise a student’s level of awareness regarding environmental problems and their own impact on their surroundings.
Lower School science at SCH Academy includes a major environmental education component as students explore, observe, and investigate—both in their classrooms and in the Wissahickon ecosystem that surrounds the school campus. Trout tanks displayed outside the lower school science rooms teach all students the life cycle of the trout and how to protect their habitats. Every 3rd grader participates in a bi-annual trout hike where they study stormwater management and how to protect our local wildlife.
Connecting with the environment can give context to and help students understand foundational science concepts at an early age. Lunch at SCH has a cafeteria monitor, a student that makes sure all lunch items are put into their waste, recycle, and compost bins properly, teaching students (and faculty) the waste that accumulates from just one lunch day.
Building essential life skills
Most environmental programs include plenty of opportunities for experiential learning and skill-building.
By performing tasks, identifying and removing invasive species, repairing trail systems, or cleaning up a riverbank, students can enhance their problem-solving skills while improving their patience and resilience.
The collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world helps kids develop their analytical reasoning skills. This type of awareness and natural study is acute at SCH, where students are the first to spot invasive plants on a hike, plastic items that are bad for the environment (such as straws), and the early study of the micro and macrobiology in SCH’s nearby ecosystem.
Moreover, studies have shown that environmental education helps kids develop a wide variety of emotional and social skills.
This includes confidence, autonomy, and leadership along with the ability to work as part of a team. SCH’s Lower School Girls has 30 members in this year’s eco club and they plan on tackling waste problems campus-wide, showing the older students in high school how to sort and manage recyclables and compost.
How to Introduce Students to Environmental Education
Consider cultural and geographic relevance
Consider the cultural and geographic relevance of environmental education activities. At SCH, the students study the nearby Wissahickon and the land that was treasured by the native Lenape tribe that once inhabited the area. They do this by getting out in nature and respecting the land nearby, as well as a social studies unit in specific grades.
Understanding where students are coming from with respect to their cultural background can be helpful for creating a safe space for learning.
Students without any prior exposure to this type of programming may not immediately see the value of environmental education activities.
To help them, ask what issues they care about in their community and identify any environmental factors that may be connected to these issues.
Engage in environmental activities
The way environmental education is taught should be adapted to the age and maturity of students.
Environmental education should be both practical and entertaining.
The McCausland Lower School and Commons, SCH’s newest building on campus, was built specifically on that site so that our elementary students can experience as much of the woods and nature as possible. With trails that begin at their classroom door to massive floor-to-ceiling windows, one cannot ignore the natural setting that surrounds our 62-acre school environment.
Investing a few hours in cleaning up a nearby park or another shared green space can help kids realize how their actions affect the environment. Our Upper School students partner with the local nonprofit Friends of the Wissahickon to provide clean-up and trail safety of the woods.
We also suggest having separate bins for recycling and waste in your classroom in order to bring a little bit of environmental stewardship into your students’ daily life.
Why You Should Choose Springside Chestnut Hill Academy
Situated on a 62-acre campus in Chestnut Hill, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH) sits right next to one of the nation’s most beautiful natural landmarks: the Wissahickon Valley Park.
Our programs include a major environmental education component that lets students explore, observe, and investigate both in their classrooms and in the Wissahickon ecosystem.
All SCH students make regular trips down to the Wissahickon Valley River, along its trails, and through its woods, as they develop their sense of environmental stewardship, learn about sustainability, enjoy its natural beauty, and study the challenges facing this native habitat.
With over 150 years of tradition, community, and academic excellence behind us, SCH is proud to offer a superior educational experience that enables our students to lead incredibly fulfilling lives inside and outside of the classroom.
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