Environmental literacy requires an understanding of the natural world and the capacity to interpret environmental systems. An environmentally literate citizen can make informed decisions about the environment based on scientific, aesthetic and ethical considerations while bearing in mind the interconnectedness of the social, cultural, economic and political systems.
Environmental literacy is gained through environmental education, an interdisciplinary approach to education that employs hands-on, outdoor, place-based and inquiry-based learning experiences in order to understand the environment as a whole. Incorporating numerous content areas, environmental education uses real-world experiences, giving students a chance to explore the matters at hand to gain experience investigating, defining and creating solutions to issues.
Environmental education not only builds environmental literacy but also increases overall student engagement and motivation, leading to improved academic achievement in all subject areas. In addition, learning about and from the environment encourages outdoor activities, which improve both physical and mental health.
Since the 1970s, an active group of education professionals in New Hampshire has used the environment as a context of learning. Members of New Hampshire Environmental Educators (NHEE) have actively been providing resources and professional development opportunities to all educators. The New Hampshire Children in Nature Coalition brings together organizations and individuals who are dedicated to connecting children, youth and families to the outdoors. Members of these two organizations, other educators and individuals joined to form the Environmental Literacy Plan (ELP) Working Group in order to draft New Hampshire’s plan. After engaging stakeholders through various means, a draft was created, reviewed and is presented here.
New Hampshire’s Environmental Literacy Plan provides an organized framework to ensure environmental literacy for all people outlined by the six Key Areas of the plan. Key Areas 1 and 2 ensure that environmental literacy activities address state education goals and are aligned with student graduation requirements. Key Area 3 focuses on the need for professional development to assist teachers and school districts. Key Area 4 considers the assessment of Environmental Literacy, and Key Area 5 addresses implementation and funding. Finally, Key Area 6 stipulates that environmental education opportunities be provided in schools and communities. The Environmental Literacy Plan serves as a component creating a pathway for achieving statewide environmental literacy and is a required element for federal funding based on the pending No Child Left Inside legislation.
In today’s world, the need for innovative thinkers and problem solvers is great. Initiatives such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) encourage students to get involved in these subject areas to ready themselves for the next generation of the work force. Environmental literacy is an intricate part of preparing New Hampshire’s next generations and is recognized as an important aspect of a well-rounded education for a sustainable future.
The future of New Hampshire’s precious natural resources lies in an environmentally literate citizenry that is able to make informed decisions. While much is being done to educate our students, there are many challenges ahead. Ensuring environmental literacy is incredibly important to the sustainability of all of New Hampshire’s systems.
On behalf of current and future citizens of our state, thank you for your consideration of this important document.