Schooling plays an important role in the way children learn, and the classroom is the ideal place to introduce students to environmental awareness. Let’s find out more about Marike’s experience as a teaching volunteer.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to facilitate teaching with 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 warm welcome like, “Miss, I like your dress. Is it new?”
Like most children this age, my class was inquisitive and always ready with an eager “why” or “how” when being taught something new.
And this should have come as no surprise, because 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, children are more likely than adults to learn this new language with ease.
I remember my own biology teacher saying, “A child’s brain is like a sponge, it soaks up all the information it receives.”
Let’s take a look at why schools are one of the best places for cultivating environmental awareness early on.
School: a centre of learning, an institution for educating children
One definition of a school is that it’s a centre of learning, and an institution for educating children.
From this explanation, it’s fair to say that schools have a responsibility to educate our future leaders. This should involve teaching them more than numeracy and literacy skills. Children should also be exposed to environmental awareness from an early age.
With environmental challenges popping up faster than expected, organisations like the United Nations (UN) and Earth.Org are calling for all communities to build on their environmental awareness, and get more involved in conservation efforts.
The earlier individuals learn about the environment, the sooner they’ll be able to contribute to safeguarding it.
To get started, let’s get up to speed on what environmental awareness is, and take a look at a few ideas on how to cultivate environmental awareness in schools.
What is environmental awareness?
Environmental awareness is about being aware of our natural surroundings, and understanding how our actions affect the well-being of the environments where we live as well as globally. The environment refers to all parts of nature, living and non-living.
Being aware of the environment is important because of the increasing environmental challenges the world is experiencing, such as:
- climate change
- global warming
- water scarcity
Understanding these issues, and making lifestyle changes that add to environmental conservation, is what environmental awareness is all about.
So, how can we encourage children to start making a positive contribution towards the environment?
Practical tips for schools
When it comes to raising awareness about environmental issues, a good place to start is by including lessons about the environment in school curriculums. All schools can learn something from the Eco-Schools Initiative.
This global initiative, operated by the Foundation for Environmental Education, began in 1994 and encourages young people to become environmentally conscious. They’ve assisted in establishing 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, in 52,000 schools.
In one of these schools, 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 identify if waste items are recyclable or not, and how to separate them into different categories, like cardboard, paper, or tin.
This is something that can be done at schools across the world . Here are some practical tips to get started:
- 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 by example
We are more likely to remember things people did, rather than what they said.
Although teaching children about what it means to be environmentally aware is important, leading by example will have a bigger impact on them. This will not only encourage environmental awareness, but also teach them how to live out environmentally conscious behaviour.
So, when you see litter, pick it up even if it’s not yours. You never know who might see you and learn from you.
Spread the word about protecting the environment
The lessons children learn in school can benefit the broader community if learners share their environmental knowledge with their friends and family.
A good way to make this happen is to encourage children to practise what they’ve learnt at school at home.
This way, the benefits of children gaining environmental awareness can continue at home and encourage the broader community to practise the same habits. For example, after learning to use water sparingly at school, students can practise closing dripping taps at home.
This approach will give children a real-world context of why environmental awareness matters, and encourage communities to work together to address environmental concerns.
So, let’s get teaching!