What Does Research Say? So Many Benefits of Environmental Education

Research indicates that environmental education provides beneficial effects for students, especially those students who are at risk or have some form of disability. In the three research articles summarized below, we provide synopses of the research methods and findings for each study.

Kransy, M., Kalbacker, L., Stedman, R., & Russ, A. (2013). Measuring social capital among youth: applications in environmental education. Environmental Education Research, 21(1), 1-23. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2013.843647

Kransy, Kalbacker, Stedman, and Russ (2013) developed a tool to measure the impact of environmental education on social capital among youth.  Social capital is defined as the reciprocating benefits that arise from social networks based on trust and cooperation.  Asking questions about student attitudes and behaviors, they examined civic engagement, volunteering, and collective decision-making of 10-18-year-old youth. The research found that exposure to environmental education that involved teaching students management of natural resources and ecological systems, led to an increase in social capital among youth, which then transferred to a community scale. Students engaged in more informal socializing and tended to have more diverse friendships and associations. While much environmental education focuses on building awareness of environmental issues and educating about how individual behaviors can impact the environment, community-level action is needed for systemic response to environmental issues. The authors identify social capital as a critical condition for the kind of collective action that is needed to address environmental concerns at local and global levels.

Price, A. (2013). Improving school attendance: can participation in outdoor learning influence attendance for young people with social, emotional and behavioral difficulties? Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning. 15(2), 110-122. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14729679.2013.850732

Taking an action research approach, Price (2013) documented the effects of environmental education on school attendance for his class of 11-16 year old students with social, emotional and behavioral challenges. Price describes evidence linking school attendance to academic performance. Implementation of an outdoor learning program with his students led to more consistent and frequent attendance, as well as greater punctuality, enthusiasm, and reduced incidents of disciplinary issues. Price noted that home conditions, sickness, and access to transportation were the other factors that affected the students’ attendance. Price suggests that the fact that students looked forward to the outdoor learning contributed to their effort to be there and led to other benefits for these students, including improvements in focus, participation, and sense of well-being.

Schusler, T., & Kransy, M. (2010). Environmental Action as Context for Youth Development. The Journal Of Environmental Education, 41(4), 208-223. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00958960903479803

Schusler and Kransy (2010) relate environmental education to increased physical, intellectual, psychological, and social well-being. The authors interviewed 33 educators from across the United States who facilitated environmental education programs, and interviewed 46 youth participating in environmental education programs in New York State. Nine facilitation methods were identified as helpful for improving attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors towards the environment. These methods included:

  • creating an emotionally safe space for learners,
  • conscious effort to bridge differences among youth,
  • focus on building relationships between youth and adults,
  • adults providing structure for activities while being flexible and adaptable,
  • program mixes rigorous physical activities with intellectual discussions,
  • clear expectations that are established and evaluated by both adults and youth,
  • adults support youth in taking on leadership roles, and
  • program expands horizons by connecting youth with their community and by connecting local with global.

The greatest challenge identified by educators was the ability to balance their direction of activities to keep focus or momentum and stepping back to allow students to take the lead. Interviews with students confirmed that environmental education improved not only their environmental awareness and attitudes, but also provided a host of other physical, emotional, intellectual, and social benefits for youth.  The findings were consistent with other studies that suggest environmental education is beneficial for youth development.

Collaborators: Katy Adams, Sydni Jourban, and Camille Hollins 

Published on January 12, 2017