A few years ago, I was lucky enough to teach a group of enthusiastic 9 to 13-year-olds. I was surprised by how observant kids in this age group were. I was always greeted with a friendly smile and a “Miss, I like your dress. Is it new?”
The children were also very inquisitive and always ready with an eager “why” or “how” when being taught something new.
The first few years of a person’s life is when they learn new concepts the quickest. For example, if both adults and children are exposed to a new language, the children are more likely than the adults to speak this new language with ease.
I recall my own biology teacher saying, “A child’s brain is like a sponge, it soaks up all the information it receives.”
Schooling plays an important role in the way children learn. Let’s talk about schools.
School: a centre of learning, an institution for educating children
If we look at this definition of a school, it’s fair to say that schools have a responsibility to educate our future leaders. This should involve not only teaching them how to count, spell, read and write, but also teaching them environmental awareness from an early age.
The earlier they learn about the environment, the more they’ll care about protecting it. We have gathered a few ideas on how to cultivate environmental awareness in schools.
But first, find out what environmental awareness is.
What is environmental awareness?
Environmental awareness is about being aware of the state of the environment. The environment refers to all parts of nature, living and non-living.
Being aware of the environment is particularly important, given the increasing environmental challenges we are facing, such as:
- climate change
- global warming
- water scarcity
Being aware of these issues and making beneficial lifestyle changes to alleviate negative effects on the environment, is what environmental awareness is about.
So how can we encourage children to make lifestyle changes that will benefit the environment?
Practical tips for schools
In order to raise awareness around environmental issues, a good place to start is by including lessons about the environment in school curriculums. All schools can learn something from the Echo-Schools Initiative.
This global initiative began in 1994 and encourages young people to engage with their environment to protect it. They have helped establish environmental education programs in schools in 68 countries.
Between 1994 and 2019, the program had already reached 19 million students and 1.4 million teachers, across 68 countries, in 52,000 schools. In one such school, Tarkington Elementary School in Chicago, teacher Steven Cota has a hands-on teaching style when it comes to showing learners how to be environmentally responsible.
For example, Cota shows children how to separate their own waste items to identify if it’s recyclable or not. Here are some practical tips to do the same:
- Teach children about the three R’s: reduce waste, reuse resources, and recycle materials.
- Organise tree planting days at school and tell children why trees are important to the environment.
- Encourage children to switch off all appliances and lights when not in use.
- Ensure taps are closed properly after you have used them and use water sparingly.
Lead children by example
We are more likely to remember things people did than what they said. Although teaching children about what it means to be environmentally aware is important, it will have more of a lasting impact on them when you lead by example.
So, when you see litter, pick it up even if it’s not yours. You never know which pair of little eyes might be watching you and who might learn from you. Schools can also start a recycling system in classrooms and show children how to recycle waste.
Spread the word about protecting the environment
Schools should encourage children to share their environmental knowledge with their friends and family. A good way to do this would be to encourage children to practise at home. It’s not as useful if children use water sparingly at school, but leave taps dripping at home. These principles will help produce kids who are more knowledgeable about environmental issues.
So let’s get teaching!
GVI is an international award-winning volunteer organisation. Learn about how we encourage environmental education on our teaching, community development, wildlife and marine conservation programs around the world.