Educating Stewards of the Earth
Editor's Note: The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently launched a new education initiative, Wild Classroom, a growing library of conservation-focused toolkits that can be used to enhance children's learning inside or outside of a traditional learning environment. Each toolkit interweaves engaging, species-specific content with other conservation issues, including habitat loss, poaching and illegal wildlife trade, climate change, and other timely topics. Today, Katy Fenn, Education Engagement Lead at World Wildlife Fund, shares why learning about the environment and animals is important.
By guest blogger Katy Fenn
In the spring of 2016, thousands of cards and letters from elementary school children from across the country swamped the mailroom of World Wildlife Fund's (WWF's) US headquarters in Washington, DC. Some featured drawings of pangolins, a small, scale-covered mammal targeted by wildlife traffickers. Others depicted wildlife rangers, the front-line guardians of our planet's most treasured species and places. And some came with photos and greetings from teachers. All of these letters resulted from an article about pangolins that was published in an April 2016 issue of Scholastic News for first graders that included a call to thank rangers for their work.
While the sheer volume of mail in this case came as a pleasant surprise, WWF regularly receives inquiries from students and teachers in search of more information about their favorite species multiple times a day.
Whether it be tigers, monarch butterflies, or polar bears, embracing kids' innate curiosity about animals as an entry point in a lesson plan can allow an educator to engage students in real-world issues and teach about the complex, interconnected threats facing our environment.
The Environment in the Curriculum
Incorporating nature education into a school's curriculum can teach children about caring for the earth and the role they play in protecting or destroying our natural resources. For example, one of the most significant threats to wild tigers is habitat loss. Tigers have lost 93 percent of their historical range.
Destruction, degradation, and fragmentation from human activities like clearing forests for agriculture and timber and building roads and other infrastructure can reduce the area tigers have to roam. This leads to higher risk of inbreeding and makes tigers more vulnerable to poaching and conflict with humans as they venture beyond protected areas to establish their own territories. A lesson plan centered around these predators can pique students' interest while breaking down a complex issue, for it can connect the dots between species, intricate conservation challenges, and their own personal impact on the environment.
Arguably, there has never been a more critical time to develop environmental values in our youth. Globally, populations of vertebrate animals—such as mammals, birds, and fish—have declined by 58 percent over the past 40 years. Across every continent, species are losing their homes to habitat loss and degradation caused by farming, residential and commercial development, and energy production. These activities also contribute to pollution and climate change.
Our planet's wildlife and wild places will only persist if people understand their importance and care enough to fight for them. It will be up to the children in your classrooms to become creative problem solvers and find solutions that help animals and humans adapt in harmony to a changing world.
Though many of the threats facing wildlife today are rooted in complicated global issues, there are actions students and teachers can take to make a difference. Educators can incorporate conservation messaging into their lesson plans instilling a value of nature in their students. Also In the US, the choices we make as consumers have great impact. Educators can teach their students about product labels that signify sustainability, like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo for paper products and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo for seafood, as well as about illegal wildlife products, like ivory and endangered animal skins. Teachers can create fundraisers to empower their classrooms to protect the wildlife and wild places they've been studying. There are lots of ways parents, teachers, and students can support conservation. Learn more about them here.
The issues facing our planet have already begun to have consequences for both humans and species. It's a crucial time to develop a child's foundation of empathy and a connection with nature to create future stewards and powerful advocates for our planet. Together, we will inspire the next generation to conserve nature and build a future where people and nature thrive.
Image © LEIGH HENRY/WWF-US, used with permission of WWF.