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Green Family Values: Environmental Education Curriculum

Photo courtesy of Adopt-a-Watershed

Back to school time is rapidly approaching, and it is a good time for parents and teachers to make plans for environmental education (EE). EE involves teaching children about the natural world and the way ecosystems work. According to the US EPA,

Through EE, people gain an understanding of how their individual actions affect the environment, acquire skills that they can use to weigh various sides of issues, and become better equipped to make informed decisions. EE also gives people a deeper understanding of the environment, inspiring them to take personal responsibility for its preservation and restoration.

Whether your child is homeschooled or attends public/private school, EE is an important part of education. Many school districts feel that they fulfill their EE requirements by sending sixth graders to outdoor camp, but EE should occur throughout the year. Concerned parents should ask their children’s teachers what their plans for EE are for the year.

The following EE curricula are ones I have particular experience with in K-8 education. Many curricula exist, and my approach has always been to pick and choose the best units from assorted curricula to provide EE in my classroom. Project Wild, Project Learning Tree, Keepers of the Earth, and Adopt-a-Watershed are my favorite EE curricula.

Project Wild is the most widely-used EE and conservation curriculum used in K-12 education, and most sixth grade outdoor camps use this curriculum as a basis for their programs. Project Wild emphasizes that wildlife has intrinsic value, and humans need to develop into responsible citizens of the planet. "Project WILD’s mission is to help students learn how to think, not what to think about wildlife and the environment." Project Wild also includes an aquatic curriculum and Spanish translation. One activity I remember from Project Wild involved creating a food web. Children represented different animals, plants, insects, etc. A ball of string was used to connect the children, as they made choices as to where the string should be connected. In my classroom, we extended this activity by creating a collage of an ecosystem on cardboard, then taking string and thumbtacks to make a visual representation of a food web. The only way to obtain Project Wild materials is by attending a workshop.

Project Learning Tree is a 30-year-old curriculum of the American Forest Foundation. Just like Project Wild, Project Learning Tree "helps students learn HOW to think, not WHAT to think, about the environment." Project Learning Tree is divided into eight modules: energy and society, forest ecology, forest issues, municipal solid waste, risk, places we live, biodiversity, and forests of the world. A children’s literature list is included to accompany each activity. One Project Learning Tree activity is the Environmental Exchange Box, in which children collect photographs, stories, samples of local food, natural objects, etc. representative of their local environment. This box is then exchanged with another box from a different school in a different locality. Children can use this box to compare and contrast the contents to their own environment. Just like Project Wild, you must attend a Project Learning Tree training to receive materials.

Keepers of the Earth is an EE curriculum based on Native American stories. "A collection is presented of carefully chosen North American Indian stories and hands-on activities that promote understanding and appreciation of, empathy for, and responsible action toward the Earth and its people." This curriculum is divided into ten topics: creation, fire, Earth, wind and weather, water, sky, seasons, plants and animals, life, death, spirit, and unity of Earth. A common theme throughout the stories is that the world is a family: "earth as our mother, sun as our father and the animals as our brothers and sisters. The stories foster an ethic of stewardship by clearly showing that we are entrusted with the responsibility to maintain the natural balance, to take care of our mother, to be keepers of the earth." There are several other books that have been written in the series, such as Keepers of Life and Keepers of the Animals. Keepers of the Earth is readily available through bookstores and online merchants.

Adopt-a-Watershed is a lesser know curriculum, which enables students to adopt a local watershed, study it, conserve it, etc.

Photo courtesy of Adopt-a-WatershedOUR VISION is for education to serve as the
cornerstone of a sustainable community, in which all citizens live their lives consciously choosing actions that ensure a healthy quality of life for current and future generations.

Adopt-A-Watershed’s place-based learning programs promote this vision by engaging students in meaningful activities that lead to an understanding of sustainability and how their choices and actions impact the community and the overall environment.

OUR MISSION is to empower communities to care for their watersheds and enhance student learning by providing leadership development, educational tools, and access to a national network of resources.

As an Adopt-a-Watershed school, my classroom conducted bird surveys, planted trees, and raised steelhead from roe to fry in our classroom. The steelhead were then released in our adopted watershed. There are 18 units in the curriculum, and it is used throughout the world.

Environmental education is an important part of any child’s education. Parents and teachers can facilitate this learning through the many curriculums that exist. EE is one aspect of education that may not appear on a standardized test, but it is very important for our children and planet.


  1. Gavin Hudson says:

    A gem of an article!
    I know EE as service-learning. This article offers great resources for educators and parents.

  2. I think that environmental education is important in today’s world. I’m really upset when I think about dirty streets, when I see that people do not even care about their native land. Maybe it’s not the best way to find the solution for reducing the level of pollution but it is a great step to a better world.

  3. beth kelley says:

    I am a second grade teacher at an International school based in South Africa. I was looking for ideas to jumpstart our elementry school’s green initiative, as well as a “service learning” project, when I happened on this website. I am already much further in my search than before, with some solid and do-able ideas. I will keep reading further, but can tell that I’ve finally hit the the right spot.

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