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Children Are The New Environmental Stewards

September 30, 2008

Hands-on experiences encourage future environmentalists

A new generation has come of age since the first celebration of Earth Day in 1970. For this and future generations, environmental awareness is an important and burgeoning point of reference.

Today’s urban children live in environments that offer little chance for direct contact with natural ecosystems, and often have to depend on sources such as television and educators for information about ecology and nature. Many children grow up without the valuable personal experiences in nature that are essential to developing a true understanding of environmental issues.

Educators are being challenged to create learning experiences that mold subsequent generations of environmental stewards: young people who are capable of making knowledgeable and conscientious decisions regarding the environment. But classroom teachers who make environmental education experiences a priority often lack resources, funding, time, and ideas about ways to integrate environmental education into classroom learning. Getting children involved in hands-on activities is critical, and gardening just may be the answer.

Youth gardening programs are becoming popular experiential vehicles to help children get “down to earth” and promote environmental awareness in communities and schools. Previous studies have indicated that children who participate in formal gardening programs have shown improvements in science achievement, nutritional choices, self-esteem, and patience. Recently, researchers studied the effect of gardening programs on the development of students’ environmental consciousness.

O.M. Aguilar, a graduate assistant in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University and lead author of the study, explained; “The objectives of the study were to examine an interdisciplinary and experiential approach to environmental education by use of a youth gardening program for third through fifth grade students. In addition, this study evaluated the gardening program’s effectiveness on promoting positive environmental attitudes and a high environmental locus of control with children.”

More than 80% of children who participated in the study had been previously involved in gardening, either through school programs or informal experiences at home. Test results indicated that children that had any type of experience with gardening had more positive attitudes toward the environment when compared with students that had not gardened. The study showed that hands-on gardening activities are important to the development of environmentally concerned citizens, and that children’s involvement in informal gardening experiences has as much impact on their environmental outlook as involvement in formal school-based programs.

Results from the study also found that there were gender and ethnicity differences among children, with girls and Caucasians appearing to benefit more from the gardening curriculum. Researchers suggested that future research should focus on the development of gardening curricula that target the needs and interests of boys and minority children.

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