Teach Ecological Literacy in Schools

An often-repeated statistic is that the average American can name 1,000 corporate brands, but only 10 plants native to their region. Even though this fact has become overused, it should still be alarming. A consequence of urbanization has been an increased disconnect between Americans and nature. Americans are exceedingly ignorant of the environment and the natural world at a time when environmental issues are becoming more and more pertinent. A solution is to introduce ecological and environmental concepts to kids. Schools should teach ecological literacy to children.

Ecological literacy is the ability to identify and understand living and nonliving factors in ecosystems. It also entails basic comprehension of the principles of conservation, environmental science and sustainability. This can be achieved by taking students on field trips to local natural areas and teaching them to identify plants and animals, and by incorporating conservation into science lessons. While adding ecological literacy to the curriculum would be difficult for middle and high schools, which already have a range of graduation requirements, it is very attainable at the elementary school level. Teaching ecological literacy to elementary schoolers would yield a variety of benefits.

Nature is an excellent way to introduce children to the natural sciences. Some fields of science, including ecology, botany, zoology and geology, are directly linked to nature. The easiest way to get children interested in these topics is to directly expose them to the plants, animals and natural features that provide the basis of these fields. Nature can also spark an interest in sciences that are not directly connected to the outdoors. Certainly, for elementary schoolers, cellular structures and chemical compounds are not as tangible as animals. Teaching younger children about nature can foster an interest in all sciences.

Meanwhile, nature can also teach kids the importance of conservation and the environment. Introducing children to the natural world creates a connection between them and the environment. This makes them more likely to care about environmental protection, and more likely to become activists or do something to reduce their environmental footprint.

Even for children who do not become the next scientists or environmentalists, becoming familiar with nature leads to a better comprehension of these fields. People are far more likely to care about conservation and environmental issues after experiencing nature themselves, and realizing the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats.

In addition, ecological education takes children outdoors and encourages them to spend time being active. A variety of studies have been conducted about child obesity in America and have yielded varying results, but all have indicated that childhood obesity is a growing, dangerous and costly problem. Ecological literacy classes provide outdoors time at school, which fosters better exercise habits in children. Even a leisurely walk through a park or natural area is much healthier than being sedentary. Time outdoors also improves mental health, in addition to physical health.

Admittedly, taking students on field trips to the outdoors is not feasible in all areas — particularly those in inner cities without access to nature. Ann Arborites, however, are lucky enough to have an extensive system of well-managed parks and natural areas. These areas have decent biodiversity and a range of habitats, and nearly every school in the district is within walking distance of one.

Overall, adding ecological literacy to the curriculum should increase students’ environmental awareness, foster their interests in science and improve their health. Even the students who do not become environmentalists will emerge able to identify more than 10 native plants.