Environmental education in our nation’s K-12 schools is on the rise with many states leading the way in providing support, training and curriculum. In California, the Education and Environment Initiative (EEI) was established in 2003 to encourage and provide support to teachers and schools to increase environmental literacy by making environmental education an integral part of the K-12 curriculum. Nationally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a similarly focused initiative based on the National Environmental Education Act of 1990.
Although environmental education is on the rise and an integrated part of many school curriculums, it is still largely voluntary. Typically, environmental education is interdisciplinary and most initiatives provide learning activities that will fit in with state standards for science, social studies and English language arts. The level of support and availability varies by state and by school district and teachers are not obligated to include environmental education in their curricula. While resources are widely available to most schools and teachers, many may feel that they can’t afford to integrate environmental education into their curricula as pressure to “get back to the basics” and “teach to the test” dominate many low performing schools.
Fortunately, resources are available to parents and families to supplement this learning process and provide fun, hands-on learning activities at home. The following is a list of some of my favorite activities and learning resources.
A walk in the woods/mountains/nature trail.
Take along a local field guide to help identify flora and fauna. Concentrate on wildflowers one day, trees the next, low-lying plants, lizards, and so on. Many guides can tell you whether or not the flora you’re viewing is native to the area. Look into volunteering with local environmental groups to help keep up trails and pull out invasive species.
Recycle plastic bottles and materials by making crafts.
Make a terrarium from a plastic bottle, a bird feeder from a milk carton or pet food scooper from a laundry detergent bottle. Reusing items instead of throwing them out can be fun and teach children the art of reuse while being creative. Find more ideas at: kids-going-green.com/eco-friendly-crafts.html.
Create a Backyard Habitat
Put out a birdbath or provide shelter by putting out logs, brushes or rocks in your yard. Choose plants and trees that provide food for wildlife and keep your chemical use to a minimum. For more ideas visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Get Outside Activities: nwf.org/Get-Outside.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Together
From recycling to composting to reducing your water use, you and your kids can find ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Use an online carbon footprint calculator to find out your family’s carbon footprint and track your reductions. The Nature Conservancy features a Climate Change Calculator: nature.org.
Online sources for more activities:
EPA: Environmental Kids Club: epa.gov/kids
Circle of Life: Environmental Activities for Kids: circleoflife.org/education/sustainable/things/environmental_act_kids.pdf
The Wilderdom Project’s Environmental Activities for Kids: wilderdom.com/games/EnvironmentalActivities.html
PBS Zoom’s Environmental Activities: pbskids.org/zoom/activities/action/way04.html
Lori Woods is an educator and writer currently living in Auburn, Alabama. She is committed to animal rights, environmentalism and social justice in her teaching and writings. Reach her at: lorilwoods.com.
By Lori Woods