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The Five Reasons Parents Should be Demanding a Greener Education for Their Children
Environmental education in its many forms — nature lessons, energy awareness, water conservation, recycling, field trips and community service projects — has been popular over many years in the U.S. But, in 90% of U.S. schools, it has failed to become more than an occasional add-on to a core curriculum. Surveys have found that the average school may offer some environmental education opportunities but these seldom provide more than a few hours of instruction and related activities.
So, what do we know about the 10% of schools that take environmental education seriously? And, how might we use this information to benefit our own kids? Quite aside from the obvious benefit that your children will learn to protect the environment for themselves and for future generations and live in a cleaner world with the natural abundance, here are five key advantages that may appeal to your “parenting” instincts:
1. Your kids will be happier, higher-performing students
Through 15 years of research and testing, environmental education has been shown to improve the average student’s classroom performance. Marginal students become solid performers and good students become great students.
In one study by the State Education and Environment Roundtable, students enrolled in comprehensive environmental education programs scored higher on 137 out of 179 measures than their peers in the same school that did not get the environmental education programming.
Another study by Evergreen College compared 77 carefully matched pairs of schools – one with environmental instruction and one without – the kids in the environmental education schools scored higher on standard statewide tests in math, reading and science and continued to do so for several years.
Why does this happen? Researchers attribute higher test scores and learning skills to the way that environmental education uses all of a child’s basic “intelligences” – learning through physical actions, visualization, and all of their senses – as compared sitting still and simply listening to a lecture.
2. Your kids will learn “executive function”
Children who sit isolated at a computer all day need to get out more. Most American kids are losing touch with the skills their parents developed when they were gathering together, inventing games, choosing sides, making up rules and learning how to work together building forts, arranging picnics or more.
The core abilities these activities develop are called “executive function” which makes the difference between being a capable leader in adult life or having a more passive (follower) attitude.
Because environmental education programs involve understanding and solving real world problems, such as recycling, stream testing, litter cleanups, tree planting and habitat projects and these activities are often learned and conducted in team settings, it is particularly good at shaping lasting executive function skills in your kids.
3. Your kids will be more motivated and better prepared for college
The American high school drop-out rate is 30% and can be as high as 50%-60% in large urban school systems. Can environmental education help kids stay in school and move on to college? Yes.
The subject is inherently interesting to kids and makes school instruction more relevant. This reduces discipline problems, helps fight absenteeism, and helps keep kids in school, obviously improving their chances for graduation.
Moreover, the problem-solving and independent study features common to many environmental education programs better prepare students for the rigors of unsupervised learning that they must adapt too as they make the high school-college transition.
4. Your kids will be ready for the emerging green economy
From now on, environmental literacy will be a foundation for major job creation in America and the world.
Economists predict that environmental and energy subjects will have the same importance in the coming 20 years that the Internet and computer technology had in the past 20 years.
Our economy is shifting rapidly toward alternative energy, greener consumer products, innovative green cars, homes and businesses, more effective recycling and new approaches to agriculture, forestry and aquaculture. A large percentage of the careers and jobs that will emerge in the future will be green. And, the entrepreneurs of the coming generation will succeed best through green innovations and learning.
5. Your kids (and their kids) will lead healthier lives
Environmental education has the side benefit of greater awareness of environmental health risks. The National Institutes of Health has an institute completely devoted to understanding the environmental causes of disease as does the Centers for Disease Control. There are countless examples in the health care field of how mindless exposure to environmental risks such as asbestos, toxic chemicals, ozone and water pollution have had lasting adverse health effects.
Environmental knowledge and awareness helps children and adults to stay clear of the worst risks and provides the knowledge and skills needed to assess future risks including when they become parents themselves.
Bringing Environmental Education to Your Child’s School
Parents would do well, when making a visit to their kid’s school to ask the principal about his or her plans to ramp up environmental education. If you encounter a blank stare when you pop the question, you can suggest the following:
- Look at the website of the North American Association of Environmental Education.
- Check out National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program
- Check out National Wildlife Federation’s Schoolyard Wildlife Habitat program.
- Incorporate our award-winning Ranger Rick magazine, each issue of which is accompanied by a monthly educators’ guide that classroom teachers can use for younger children.