Educating youth plays an
important role in the environment.
At a recent holiday event at the Science Museum of Long Island (where I am employed) I introduced the topic of the day, which also happens to be the title of this article: Preserve the Preserve. The day started by asking a group of children what the word preserve means. A sea of blank faces fell over the second and third graders and I needed to drive the conversation a little more than I first thought. I encouraged them to raise their hands and simply say what comes to mind. After several answers came from the crowd, one child finally said “To keep something from getting old.” Finally, a reply I can build upon. The discussion continued, and after I mentioned to them that we were also on a nature preserve, a bewildered look fell upon the room. Rather than explain what a nature preserve was, I thought the best way to approach the situation was to simply show them.
As a teacher, I would hope that my efforts to teach these children about nature preservation would leave a lasting impression. The impact of education has always been a motivator on how I run my classrooms and I have always tried to make learning interesting, fun, and impactful. Most of the time, you realize that you are having an impact but you rarely see the result firsthand. Sure, there are assessments that can measure growth, but the fact is, I would only see my students for 45 minutes per day. It wasn’t until I started selling renewable energy that truly made me realize the impact of education first hand, out of the classroom. My days were usually spent on a busy street in Queens, NY trying to promote renewable energy. I would attempt to strike up conversation with all that passed by. In typical New York fashion, many people would just walk by. Some would stop to discuss an environmental issue (usually to express if they were for or against my product), and others were truly interested in what I had to offer.. Among all these interactions, the ones that caught my attention most were those of children who would take notice. They saw the pictures of wind turbines on my displays and tell their parents, I learned about that in school and it is important.
While these interactions with children left a lasting impression on me, they were very few in numbers when compared to the number of children who walked by my sales display everyday. Are these other children unaware of environmental issues? Learning about nature is certainly prevalent in schools: from the role of plants and photosynthesis to predator prey relationships, it is thoroughly covered. Environmental issues are also the highlight of many lessons like pollution, water quality, and habitat destruction. Here in the United States, many schools focus on recycling, and words like green, eco-friendly, and carbon footprint are prevalent in our society. As I look back to my childhood and days in school, children today have much more exposure to environmental issues than I did. One would think that many more children would have acknowledged my renewable energy display than not. Do they not care?
A study that was published last year says that they do not, at least when compared to previous generations. As for the reason why, well it may not be as simple as people think. Environmental issues are a fiercely debated topic and usually depicted in our media as either a doom & gloom scenario, economic scenario, or some “fanatical” environmental group going too far to defend their position. Being exposed to these ideas can easily sway a young person away from interest in preservation. Technology may be a part of the problem too. With new technologies constantly appearing, less time is spent outdoors, appreciating nature and what it has to offer. In my own opinion based on teaching children of many different ages, the biggest reason may be that youth care less about issues that do not affect themselves directly.
How do we get children interested in the environment then? By exposing them to it! The Preserve the Preserve themed day ended up being a fun filled day that exposed all the children to nature first hand. Our activities included observing nature, showing them things that can affect nature, making birdfeeders, preserving leaves, and even cleaning up a local beach. My biggest hope is that the children left with an increased appreciation for the environment and took something with them for the rest of their lives. I would also hope that as they continue their education, issues in environmental education are impactful, meaningful, and drive them to make good choices when it comes to nature.
By Daniel J. Steiger
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