With spring in full swing and Earth Month upon us, now is the perfect time for educators to think outside the classroom and utilize one of the best teaching tools we have at our disposal: the great outdoors. April 19 through 22 is Environmental Education Week, a time to emphasize and encourage education that focuses on and utilizes the natural world. At the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education (KAEE), this is the kind of work we do year-round.

As a part of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) Affiliate Network, KAEE is taking part in a pledge campaign known as Outside for 5, encouraging teachers and educators in Kentucky to engage in outdoor learning for at least five minutes a day, five days a week, or any meaningful amount of time.

According to a report by researchers from Stanford University, 98% of studies that examined whether students gained knowledge from environmental education saw a positive impact, while 90% of studies reported increased skills, 86% reported positive changes, and 83% reported enhanced environment related behaviors.

So, what’s the big deal about outdoor learning? For one, it provides students of all ages with hands-on opportunities to explore, experiment, and interact with the natural environment.

This can lead to greater student engagement and academic achievement. According to a 2014 article published in Applied Environmental Education & Communication, environmental education and outdoor programs that use explorative learning techniques can significantly enhance students’ learning attitudes.

Moreover, when skilled teachers conduct these outdoor learning activities in familiar surroundings, students tend to be more engaged and achieve better outcomes in science education.

Environmental education can also help students become environmentally-conscious and develop skills to address ecological issues.

According to a 2017 article published in Biological Conservation, when students realize that they have the power to make collective contributions towards conservation efforts, they feel motivated to continue pursuing such endeavors.

This, in turn, enables them to retain their knowledge, skills, roles, and actions related to science and conservation, creating a strong foundation and building capacity for future conservation efforts.

For educators throughout the Commonwealth, regardless of the grade level you teach or if you teach in a rural or urban setting, there are opportunities to utilize our natural world in your curriculum.

Nature comes in all sizes, and no matter where your classroom is located, you’re not far from the opportunity for meaningful and educational experiences with nature.

From academic advancement to environmental stewardship, students stand to gain so much from taking the classroom outside. To learn about ways to think outside the classroom, visit kaee.org.

Educators can also gain ideas on how to engage in environmental education by attending the KAEE Outdoor Learning Symposium, set for June 1 at North Calloway Elementary School in Murray, Kentucky. Registration for teachers and administrators is currently open, and registration for non-formal educators and community partners opens April 28. Registration closes May 29.

To register and learn more, visit kaee.org/outdoor-learning.

Ashley Hoffman has served as the Executive Director of the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education since 2010. She holds a B.S. degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida and a Masters in Nonprofit Administration from North Park University School of Business and Nonprofit Administration.

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