Charting the Path to Environmental Stewardship

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

As an environmental educator it's difficult not to get discouraged. The constant drip-drip of bad news about the state of the environment is impossible to ignore. Climate change, biodiversity collapse, sea level rise, ocean acidification, plastic waste and the list continues. Teaching children and youth about these formidable challenges can seem daunting, overwhelming and, at times, simply hopeless. Despite our best efforts, things just seem to be getting worse.

"Rather than worrying about what kind of planet we're leaving our children, it might be time to ask the opposite: what kind of children are we leaving behind for our planet?"

Flipping Environmental Education Upside Down

But could it be that we are thinking about this all wrong? Instead of dealing with reactions to problems and trying to solve environmental issues as they arise, it may be worthwhile to consider what sort of citizens we believe should populate the Earth. Rather than worrying about what kind of planet we're leaving our children, it might be time to ask the opposite: what kind of children are we leaving behind for our planet? Raising eco-literate and environmentally engaged citizens requires far more than just a few educators participating in this work. Rather it's the collective responsibility of all: each of us has a stake in fostering the stewards of tomorrow.

"A key aim of any 21st Century education system must surely be to create visionary changemakers and engaged citizens capable of creating a bright, sustainable future."

That's precisely why this blog exists. The goal is to empower and activate individuals and communities to become changemakers for a better world. But how do we chart the path to environmental stewardship? Is there a concrete way of getting there? Well, there might be.

How to Nurture Environmental Stewards

1. Pitched At the Right Level

We need to recognize that children of different ages respond to the environment in markedly different ways. Well-meaning educators may want to talk to small children about climate change and the impacts of a warming planet, but small children simply do not have the cognitive faculties to process such large and multi-dimensional issues. Effective learning requires pitching environmental education at the right level and in a way that engages children using a non-threatening, open and discovery-led approach.

2. Exposure to the Natural World

Most parents and teachers would agree that children need regular exposure to the natural world from a very early age through both unstructured outdoor play and more structured outdoor education. These early childhood experiences help connect children with nature and nurture the environmental stewards of the future.

In fact, a new peer reviewed study has shed further light on this. Researchers found that until the age of 11 children are highly open and receptive to nature-based, environmental education. However, beyond age 11 they found that children's connection to nature drops sharply and doesn’t recover until they reach 30.

Although more research is needed, this study appear to have identified the point that children fall out of love with nature. This has wide-reaching implications for children's engagement with pro-environmental behaviours, like recycling or buying eco-friendly products.

3. Integration of Sustainability in Schools