The Importance of Environmental Awareness in Learning
From the time a child is a pre-schooler, and throughout his school years, the job of exposing children to the world around them is an essential pre-requisite or foundation to learning that is often neglected by parents who are not conscious of this need.
What is environmental awareness? It is having knowledge of the surroundings, or world, beyond ones immediate place. Often educators and parents assume that children notice what they, the parents, see or understand what they know about their surroundings. This, however, is often not the case. Children are not naturally aware of their changing environment and often do not have the background that adults have to understand their environment. Environmental awareness needs to be taught.
Parents must point out, discuss and expose children to the world around them. It is essential for forming a good foundation upon which children can learn and understand academic subjects in school. First hand observation and hands-on exposure is the best way to give pre-schoolers and older children the foundation that they need for learning. For example, when parents are riding in the car with their children, they should talk to them about the area in which they are riding. If they are going through a village, borough or city, they should explain that this is a village, borough or city because…, point out the post office and explain what goes on there, point out the police station, borough or village hall, talk about what makes up and goes on in a town or any other area. In this way children have the basic knowledge that they need to comprehend their school reading about a city or any other subject, and they will be able to visualize the setting of the story or the idea that is needed to understand the subject.
There is no end to the places that children should be taken by their parents in order to build this firm foundation. They should go to science, historical and art museums, international festivals, zoos, the circus, libraries, city halls, etc. But just taking children to a museum does not give them the foundation that is needed. The most important aspect of environmental awareness involves parents pointing out and talking to children with enthusiasm what they seeing. For example, parents might say, “Oh, look at this model of an American Indian longhouse! From what do you think these Indians made the frame and walls of the house? Can you see that they have a fire on the middle of the floor of the house? Why do you think they have a hole in the ceiling above the fire?” By pointing out the various aspects of the longhouse, children begin to notice and learn. Soon they will be pointing out with enthusiasm various aspects of what they are viewing.
I once had an extremely bright child whose parents took him on many trips all over the world. However, because they did not point anything out to him or even talk to him about what they were seeing on their trips, his world was very small. He was extremely weak in his environmental awareness, making it very difficult for him to understand literature, history and science. I remember that this elementary school child did not know the difference between a squirrel and a raccoon. To him they both had fluffy tails and he could not tell one from the other. When his teacher pointed out the mask on the face of the raccoon and the stripes on his tail versus the appearance of a squirrel, he began to note and understand the difference. I remember his mother coming into school and saying, “I am really surprised that Zachary did not know what a raccoon looked like because we feed them at the zoo!” Immediately I said, “Did you point out the mask on his face? Did you point out the stripes on his tail?” and of course, the answer was “No.” This mother assumed that because she saw the markings of the raccoon, her son had also noted the distinctive characteristics.
There is so much that children can learn by just being taken out into the backyard. Parents can teach their children by being their eyes and ears at first and then gradually teach their children to develop their own awareness of the world around them. They can point out the petals on a flower, stems, roots, their use to the flower and talk to their children about how plants need soil, water and sunlight to grow. They can have their children experience the joy of planting various kinds of seeds in a vegetable or flower garden; learn how the seeds differ and how the plants grow. They need to point out how berries grow on plants or bushes, how the flower forms and then the fruit develops from the base of the flower and other aspects of plant growth propagation. They need to show children how some fruits grow on trees and to identify fruits and vegetables. In the fall they need to talk about how the farmer “harvests” his “crop” and what those words mean. This foundation is essential for the study of agriculture in school.
There is no end to the amount of environmental awareness to which parents need to expose their children. Reading fiction to children is good but, even more importantly, reading non-fiction books to children is essential. There are wonderful books put out by DK, Osborne, Smithmark and Peter Bedrick Publishers, to name a few, who produce marvelous books with lots of very interesting illustrations and captions on such topics as castles, ships, locomotives, basic geography, basic history, inventions, etc that are extremely interesting to all children from pre-school to high school. The pictures make the information in the captions easy to grasp and exciting to learn. When parents read these books to their children, they should take one topic at a time and talk to their children about the fascinating information on that page and perhaps even relating it to their own or their children’s experiences. The more excited parents are about learning the information that they are reading to their children, the more excited and eager children become about learning.
There is no way that a teacher can possibly expose all children to everything they need to know for the foundation of the basic subjects of history and science in school. Therefore it is essential that parents prepare their children and continue to teach and expose their children to the world around them from pre-school to grade twelve.
Addie Cusimano is an educational therapist with over thirty-five years of working in the field of education. She holds a Masters Degree in education with a reading specialist certification. She has worked as a classroom teacher and reading specialist in public schools and as the director, diagnostician and clinician at a private school in New York State that specialized in working with learning disabled (dyslexic) as well as gifted students. She has done extensive research on learning disabilities and has shared her findings in her book entitled, Learning Disabilities: There is a Cure ISBN 0615120539. Her book discusses the many learning skills that children must have developed in order to learn with ease. She has also designed a program for the advancement of visual memory of words for reading and spelling entitled Achieve: A Visual Memory Program that has proven to be highly effective for the development of sight vocabulary, spelling and remembering terms for social studies and science. These may be previewed and ordered at http://www.achievepublications.com or you may ask academic questions by clicking on the Dear Addie tab on this site.