E-STEM is the integration of environmental education into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning for youth. E-STEM increases students’ awareness and knowledge about environmental issues and problems. As a parent homeschooling your children, you must ensure they understand how human activity affects the environment.
One of the best ways to make the connection between our actions and the environment is to take your class outside. By heading out into nature for your lessons, you can expect to find a range of benefits like improved mental health, more curiosity in your children, and a greater appreciation for nature.
But doing school outside is about more than just packing a lunch and heading out the door. You must do your best to create a productive learning environment and should have a clear reason as to why you want to take the classroom outdoors. Here are a few tips to get you started.
What is Environmental Awareness?
Environmental awareness is increasingly important for everyone. The students of today must understand how the environment is impacted by the systems and decisions humans make, because they will need to make key lifestyle changes to counteract global warming, energy shortages, and uncontrolled waste mismanagement.
As a parent and homeschooling teacher, you’re in a great position to help your child understand and respect the natural environment. You can teach environmental awareness by planning classes that tell about responsible consumption, conservation of resources, and preventing pollution. Moreover, you can teach children sustainable habits and lead through example outside of the classroom by buying food from local farms and volunteering for environmental projects.
It’s important for children to understand that environmental awareness is about more than individual actions. Simply put, we need politicians and decision-makers to decide to make key changes that prioritize environmental awareness at the national, state, and local level. As your child’s teacher, you can take a multidisciplinary approach to teach this important lesson and can branch out into subjects like geography, U.S. politics, or even literature to show the importance of collective action.
Part of the joy of teaching outside is that it can intuitively support learning in ways that wouldn’t be possible indoors. Of course, this will look different depending on the environment you live in, and should be tailored to the content you’re teaching or your child’s learning needs.
Some examples of how your family can practice environmental stewardship include: planting trees, collecting rain water, composting, recycling, and making your home more energy efficient. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide upon the best activities that will help your child understand the importance of environmental awareness. But, you can generally theme your classes around two big ideas: discovery and protection.
For example, if you live near the coast, you can use the beach to show the importance of environmental awareness by searching for waste on the sand. You can pick up trash that you see lying about, or can even get creative and do some metal detecting on the beach. You can connect this “discovery” to a “protection” point by showing your children the connection between the waste we do not recycle, and the trash that ends up washed up on our shores and in oceans.
Outdoor Teaching on a Budget
Most homeschool teachers love getting outside — until they start adding up the bill and discover that teaching in the great outdoors can cost quite a bit. However, this needn’t be the case. Challenge yourself to justify how each item will directly support your child’s learning before you commit to the spend. Transportation isn’t required, for example, when you can do things in your own backyard. Outdoor furniture isn’t needed when children can simply sit under a tree to read, write, or draw.
If you’re stuck for ideas, but still want to get out into nature, look around your local area with a fresh pair of eyes – what natural resources can be found nearby? Even a short walk into your local area can sufficiently connect kids to nature, and your local parks or nature reserves will be glad to host you. If you are in the middle of a city – is there a building site throwing away bricks, tiles or planks? How can these materials be reused or recycled? Maybe you can make a raised garden bed for free.
It is also possible to teach and travel on a restricted budget. You can easily leverage remote technology to take your work with you while you travel, and you can work seasonally based jobs in the location you want to visit to pay your way for both you and your traveling classroom.
Health and Safety
Before you load up the car and hit the backcountry, you need to complete a thorough health and safety check to ensure that your child is safe when you take the classroom outdoors. This will look different depending upon your child and where you live, but you should at least do the following:
- Check local weather reports
- Research animals and know how to deter them
- Bring adequate food and water
- Bring a fully charged phone with a backup charger
- Tell other people where you will be going before you go
These few actions are the bare minimum you should do before you head out into nature. This is particularly important if you plan on backpacking or camping, which requires extra forethought and planning.
Taking your students outside is a great way to incorporate environmental awareness into your studies. Make sure you prepare your lesson plan just as thoroughly as you would for teaching in the classroom, and take care to ensure that you and your child stay safe while learning about the great outdoors through first-hand experience.