Environmental education is growing. Whereas appreciation for nature and the environment was once taught – paradoxically so – from inside an air-conditioned rectangle also known as a traditional classroom, educators now see the benefits of taking these lessons outdoors.
Modern environmental education has many advantages - not only do children benefit from learning about the environment through hands-on experiences, but it has also shown to boost stress management. Although many schools now offer stress management courses or programs, most of them rely on dealing with existing stress, rather than creating environments designed to reduce stress, according to Louise Chawla, environmental design professor at the University of Colorado – Boulder.
At an elementary school in Denver, students were assigned tasks in more natural environments described as ‘peaceful’ and ‘calm’. Researchers have found that, in addition to reducing stress levels, adding dirt and water to the picture tend to make young students more inclined to improve relationships and experience a better sense of accomplishment. Students were observed for 700 hours with no signs of obvious misbehaviour. In the event that a student has been angered by another student or group of students, the target was relatively calmer than his or her usual self.
As a result of environmental education, teachers have reported that children returning from recess were better at concentrating over longer periods of time. Some parents also reported that the experience had positive long-term impacts on their children’s social and emotional well-being.
Hands-on experiences directly involving nature, such as scheduling regular classes outdoors and learning sustainable gardening, can minimize the sometimes disheartening feeling of being trapped in a building. When students are out and active in nature, they are more engaged, socialized, focused, and be more creative. During recess, for example, children can spend their time discovering and exploring the environment from a different and more curious perspective.
Children are highly influenced by lessons taught in school from a young age. The key to effective environmental education is to start early. Hopefully more schools realize the advantages of this method on a child’s life-long development, and environmental education implementation continues to grow within all types of communities.