Inspiring Eco-Consciousness in Kids Without a Load of Eco-Guilt

| 3/7/2016 9:54:00 AM

Tags: education, environmental education, ecopsychology, outdoor experiences, Ohio, Andrew and Michelle Shall,

I have spent the majority of my working life with children outdoors. I was an environmental educator for a number of years, tasked with the multi-faceted job of engaging young people with nature through any means possible. I went camping, hiking, and tramping through creeks with a string of teens in tow.

I also did stream surveys with 6th graders, identifying benthic macroinvertebrates and testing water for contaminants. I taught watershed stewardship programs in urban schools, toting dioramas and animal skins around to different classrooms. I paid special visits to preschools with snakes and turtles, gleefully watching as the kids came up and gently touched the creatures.

teaching first grade

In all of these circumstances, the inevitable moral conclusion for us educators was to make sure we addressed environmental concerns with these kids and challenged them to make better decisions in the future. When I was teaching along the history-beleaguered Cuyahoga River, for example, I often found fantastic, relevant opportunities to talk about the environmental movement and the impact that humans have on water health. Even the most uninterested students ears perked up when I told them that the river they were looking at had caught on fire because of pollution.

Avoiding 'Eco-Guilt' in Environmental Education

However, a common side effect to talking to children (and adults) about the environment is something I often hear called “Eco-Guilt.” As a child of the 1990s, I knew this feeling well. My 10-year old self believed that I, personally, was to blame for the destruction of rainforests (even though I’d never seen one), and that the demise of endangered species was being wrought by my own hands. I tried to send my birthday money in to save a whale after watching “Free Willy,” and I threw rocks at the earthmovers that were cutting down the forest at the end of my road.

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