The challenges of teaching environmental education

How do I inspire children to appreciate nature when they love their screens so much?

One of the major challenges of teaching environmental education is, as all teachers and parents as well know, that children love their screen time. It's not so much that screens are bad, but the fact that it squeezes out things that children could be doing, such as playing outside.

Many families find ways around this and ensure children have lots of opportunities in nature, but it is really difficult for many families and with children so keen to be on their screens, many children miss out on outdoor experiences. 

WWF's Learn to Love nature series is jam-packed full of ideas for stimulating children's enjoyment of nature.

How do I show the impact of my environmental lessons?

Another of the challenges of teaching environmental education is that the education system currently has such a rigorous focus on showing impact of all the teaching that is done; with environmental education it is notoriously difficult to show impact.

How do you prove that children now appreciate and value the outdoors?

How do you show that children are more active in their lifestyle choices?

These are challenges that are very real.

How do I lead pupils from awareness to action?

Developing awareness is one thing, but leading from this to action is another. How should educators enable and empower children to become active citizens? Is this our role, or is it enough to develop children's awareness of environmental issues?

How do I fit environmental education into an already full curriculum?

Another of the challenges of teaching environmental education that is frequently encountered, is how to squeeze environmental education into an already full curriculum.

Luckily many schools are raising the profile of environmental education and ensuring that it is covered in science and geography and sometimes in Literacy too. 

How can I show environmental education is not a 'soft subject'?

Environmental education may have to battle with other science subjects to hold its own. With the difficulty of showing the impact of learning and scientific rigour, it may not be as respected as it could be.

How do I keep up with the scientific facts when everything is changing so fast?

No sooner than you've ordered that new set of books, the facts and figures are out of date! We've all been there - the books look great but are no longer relevant for one reason or another.

Thank goodness for the internet for supplying an endless stream of up to date facts. But how challenging it is as a teacher to keep fact checking things to ensure we are up to date and accurate. This can become overwhelming and anther reason to stick to tried and tested topics that require less legwork. 

How can I break out of the psychology of despair?

How do we, as teachers, help pupils to break out of the feeling of despair. They may have started out full of enthusiasm, after discovering an environmental issues that resonated with them, but then fallen into despair, after seeing that their efforts haven't really changed anything.

How do we not aggravate this further by piling more and more information about the problems onto their shoulders?

How can I support parents who are worried about their children  experiencing eco-anxiety?

Many parents are undoubtedly concerned about their children's wellbeing. Whilst most parents would want their children educated about climate change and the impact on the environment, many are confused and concerned about introducing their children to concepts that they are not able to change.

The Friends of the Earth guide on How to cope with eco-anxiety is useful.

Relevant research on the challenges of teaching environmental education

This paper, although written over ten years ago, summarises challenges that are still very much relevant today. With a clear description of the challenges and also ideas for solutions, it is valuable reading:

Challenges for Environmental Education: Issues and Ideas for the 21st Century: Environmental education, a vital component of efforts to solve environmental problems, must stay relevant to the needs and interests of the community and yet constantly adapt to the rapidly changing social and technological landscape 

Stewart J. Hudson Author Notes

BioScience, Volume 51, Issue 4, April 2001, Pages 283–288,[0283:CFEEIA]2.0.CO;2Published: 01 April 2001