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Project Learning Tree Blog

Monday, November 25, 2013

Top 10 Benefits of Environmental Education

By Susan Toth in Educator Tips & Stories

Environmental EducationEnvironmental education (EE) connects us to the world around us, teaching us about both natural and built environments.  EE raises awareness of issues impacting the environment upon which we all depend, as well as actions we can take to improve and sustain it.

Whether we bring nature into the classroom, take students outside to learn, or find impromptu teachable moments on a nature walk with our families, EE has many benefits for youth, educators, schools, and communities.

As a long time supporter of environmental education and as an Adjunct Professor of EE at University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, it is my passion to inspire future educators in this field. Over the years, I have asked each of my classes to share the reasons they teach EE, what it means to them, and how it can benefit learners of all ages. Here are our top ten benefits of EE. 

Top 10 Benefits of Environmental Education

  1. Imagination and enthusiasm are heightened - 
    EE is hands-on, interactive learning that sparks the imagination and unlocks creativity. When EE is integrated into the curriculum, students are more enthusiastic and engaged in learning, which raises student achievement in core academic areas.

  2. Learning transcends the classroom -
    Not only does EE offer opportunities for experiential learning outside of the classroom, it enables students to make connections and apply their learning in the real world. EE helps learners see the interconnectedness of social, ecological, economic, cultural, and political issues.

  3. Critical and creative thinking skills are enhanced - 
    EE encourages students to research, investigate how and why things happen, and make their own decisions about complex environmental issues.  By developing and enhancing critical and creative thinking skills, EE helps foster a new generation of informed consumers, workers, as well as policy or decision makers.

  4. Tolerance and understanding are supported - 
    EE encourages students to investigate varying sides of issues to understand the full picture. It promotes tolerance of different points of view and different cultures.

  5. State and national learning standards are met for multiple subjects -
    By incorporating EE practices into the curriculum, teachers can integrate science, math, language arts, history, and more into one rich lesson or activity, and still satisfy numerous state and national academic standards in all subject areas. Taking a class outside or bringing nature indoors provides an excellent backdrop or context for interdisciplinary learning.

  6. Biophobia and nature deficit disorder decline -
    By exposing students to nature and allowing them to learn and play outside, EE fosters sensitivity, appreciation, and respect for the environment.  It combats “nature deficit disorder” … and it’s FUN!

  7. Healthy lifestyles are encouraged - 
    EE gets students outside and active, and helps address some of the health issues we are seeing in children today, such as obesity, attention deficit disorders, and depression.  Good nutrition is often emphasized through EE and stress is reduced due to increased time spent in nature.

  8. Communities are strengthened - 
    EE promotes a sense of place and connection through community involvement. When students decide to learn more or take action to improve their environment, they reach out to community experts, donors, volunteers, and local facilities to help bring the community together to understand and address environmental issues impacting their neighborhood.

  9. Responsible action is taken to better the environment -
    EE helps students understand how their decisions and actions affect the environment, builds knowledge and skills necessary to address complex environmental issues, as well as ways we can take action to keep our environment healthy and sustainable for the future.  Service-learning programs offered by PLT and other EE organizations provide students and teachers with support through grants and other resources for action projects.

  10. Students and teachers are empowered - 
    EE promotes active learning, citizenship, and student leadership. It empowers youth to share their voice and make a difference at their school and in their communities. EE helps teachers build their own environmental knowledge and teaching skills. I hope these “top ten” benefits will give you the confidence and commitment to incorporate EE into your curriculum!  

We’d love to hear what you think!

Please share any additional benefits below in the comments section.


3 Comments Email RSS


  • November 25, 2013 11:28 AM
    Vail Ryan
    Despite EE being of great benefit, most of us who teach it are "informal" educators without any mechanism for certification regardless of our knowledge and we are paid wages on which we cannot support ourselves at even a minimal level.
    We have a passion for science, the environment, the education of children, etc. Yet, we often earn less than $10 per hour and are lucky to get in 10 hours in a week.
    Isn't it time to treat us with a little more respect?
    Let us demonstrate our proficiency, give us certification for doing so, give us a living wage and job security... and see the difference it makes. Empower us!
  • November 25, 2013 12:58 PM
    Jennifer Davies
    I found a stellar but under-utilized outdoor classroom that's part of a public school system when I moved to Indiana 6 years ago and asked to show them what I could do with their site...5 years later and we are nearly out of money for my meager $13.50/hour wage (just got 'no's' on the last 2 grants I wrote) and yet I served more than 9,000 kids last year. They LOVE the place. But I can't test the long term affect of what such opportunities mean to the adults they will become. I represent all of the points above and it feels like #9 is the hardest to peg.

    if you want the flavor of what I do:
  • November 25, 2013 2:09 PM
    Noah Manduke
    I agree with your 10 but might add a few near the top of the list, especially as it relates to children. EE breeds respect, responsibility and self-determination. These are the big gifts that keep on giving!