When you include environment education in your elementary homeschool program, you have some wonderful opportunities to connect real-world experiences with scientific understanding. In the elementary years, children welcome experiences that allow them to explore nature and get messy, as well as those that allow them to ask questions and discover answers. With their sense of wonder and joy of discovery, kids eagerly learn about our world and its systems, making all kinds of connections between their knowledge and their experiences. As you explore together, your children learn first-hand how their actions and choices affect the environment we all depend on, and build foundations for a lifetime of habits that benefit self, community, and our shared world.
As you plan your elementary homeschool program, here are seven reasons why including an environment education benefits the whole child:
Environmental education is about hope and change. There is a mountain of evidence that suggests environmental education is a powerful way to teach students. Over 100 studies found that it provides transformative learning opportunities that bring tremendous results and engage young people in the world around them in meaningful, collaborative ways. There is no doubt that environmental education is one of the most effective ways to instill a passion for learning among students.
Dr. Nicole Ardion, Stanford University Graduate School of Education and Woods Institute for the Environment
1. Experiences in natural environments increase physical and mental health
Studies have shown that experiences in green spaces improve focus, calmness, and clarity, and have positive effects on reducing stress and increasing creativity. Getting outside as part of an elementary homeschool environment education can be as simple as taking a break to enjoy a spring day in the backyard, or as involved as taking a full-blown camping trip with backpacks and canteens, or anything in between. It all works! Take your children into diverse natural settings and you create opportunities to be active, explore our world, and build healthy habits.
2. Environment education helps children understand interconnectedness
As your children learn about EarthÕs physical systems, they begin to understand how these systems interact and affect changes in each other over time. They learn to identify similarities and differences among the organisms they encounter. They begin to understand how the environment affects these organisms, including humans, and how organisms affect the environment in which they live. Your children can also explore ideas of economic, cultural, and political issues that affect attitudes and behaviors toward the environment, and how these are connected.
3. Critical and creative thinking skills are developed through environment studies
As you encourage your elementary-age children to investigate how and why things happen, ask them questions and encourage them to form their own opinions and make their own decisions. In addition to learning about the earth and its inhabitants, youÕll find opportunities to explore complex societal issues, too. For example, when your child notices that some people take reusable bags when they go shopping and other people donÕt, thatÕs an opportunity for your child to do some research. They might decide to interview family members and friends about their habits and attitudes toward reusable bags, and then draw their own conclusions or perhaps even design an awareness campaign. Practicing creative and critical thinking skills in this context helps your child become an informed consumer, decision-maker, and potentially a future policy maker or influencer.
4. Studying environmental issues increases understanding of differences
When your children investigate environmental issues from various angles, they learn that understanding the full picture requires seeing different perspectives. They not only learn to tolerate different points of view and different cultures, but they also can begin to think about ways to bring people together and how to communicate effectively and respectfully with other people who may hold different opinions.
5. Strengthened sense of community through environment education
As your children connect with nature in your community, they develop a sense of connection to place, a sense of rootedness in their home. Whether your homeschool is mostly urban or largely rural, opportunities for your children to engage with their local environment will help them define their relationship to nature and their place within it. When your children choose to learn more about local environmental issues, or to take action to improve their environment, your children will learn that they are important members of your community. Children of all ages can participate in community events, and learn how leaders, donors, and volunteers work together to create positive change.
6. Responsibility for actions and choices that affect the environment
As your elementary age children learn about how our choices and decisions affect the environment, they are building knowledge and skills that they can use to tackle complex issues thoughtfully. As you design your homeschool program, youÕll find creative field trips and projects to help your children explore these concepts, but one of the unique strengths of homeschool education is the opportunity to make the learning part of daily life. Your children have the opportunity to be directly involved with daily choices and actions in your home that help our environment, and put their new knowledge to work as they embrace their responsibility in real life.
7. Empowerment to make a difference in the environment and our future
A thoughtful homeschool environment education in the elementary years gives children confidence as they approach complex environmental issues, helping ward off feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm. By encouraging active learning, critical thinking, creative problem solving, and good citizenship while learning about the scientific understanding of our environment, you can empower your children to feel confident that they really can make a difference. They learn that they can analyze problems, share their opinions, and work for a sustainable future for everyone.
As you think about ways to include environment education in your elementary homeschool program, take a look at REAL Science Odyssey Earth and Environment 1 from Pandia Press! Appropriate for grades 1 – 4, topics include scientific modeling, a study of Earth’s three “spheres,” weather, climate, the environment, erosion, and plate tectonics. Students study the weather, climate and climate change, the age of the earth, forces that shape the earth, and current pollution and environmental issues that affect water, land, and air. Short lessons are followed by several hands-on labs and activities, including making a Pangaea puzzle, testing various methods of cleaning an oil spill, making a geologic timeline, and water cycle in a bowl. Rocks and minerals are studies in-depth with students identifying their samples through the same tests used by geologists.
Additionally, I have found helpful resources at the following links:
For citizen science opportunities to complement your environment explorations, check out iNaturalist, which is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature. There is a teacher’s guide to help educators.
Denise Wilson is a pro-level follower of rabbit trails who has homeschooled her middle-schooler since he was four (it was his idea). Her work includes writing for children and the adults who love them; creating and teaching science courses for middle-schoolers; and the general magic of the everyday. Denise’s family loves reading, traveling, table games, making stuff, and playing with their dog, Charlie Barker. She blogs about their secular, eclectic, weird but awesome home education life at BackyardOwls.com .