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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 4, January/February 2008

Why ecoliteracy?

By Tricia Edgar

In this age of stranger danger and dwindling open spaces, children interact with video screens more than natural places. Natural places are inaccessible to children. Vacant lots are fenced off. Children are asked to stay inside after school to stay safe, or they have no time for free, unstructured play.

In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv talks about this phenomenon, calling it "nature-deficit disorder." The journalist interviewed 3,000 families about the changing nature of childhood, and what he found inspired him to write a book that explores the need for children to connect with nature. It became a bestseller.

We are born needing to connect with other life, whether this life is a pet, a garden, or a forest. Heading outside is healthy for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. American biologist Edward Wilson has named this affinity for other life "biophilia."

Unfortunately, today many of us connect nature with fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of extinction and climate change. Fear for our future. In our classrooms, how do we build on children’s desire to connect with other life? How do we face fear and move into positive action? When we teach ecological literacy, we can do both of these things and we teach about how nature works.

Imagine a classroom that fosters a sense of wonder for the natural world and encourages children to explore that world, both freely and as part of structured projects.

This classroom would foster joy in our relationship with the rest of nature and encourage students to have an ongoing relationship with natural places, whether these are a corner of an urban schoolyard or a wilderness area.

Together, teachers and students would learn that they rely on nature and that they are part of nature. This classroom would provide a foundation so that students can inquire, learn, and grow as life-long citizens of the planet.

Literacy is about teaching building blocks--letters, words--so that early readers can comprehend written language. However, the objective is not only to yield people who know how to identify words. The objective is also to create a life-long love of reading. We teach literacy so that our students yearn to ask questions and find answers and learn about their place in the world.

The same is true for ecological literacy. Through ecological literacy, children and adults grow to understand nature and their place in nature. We foster connections with nature and encourage people to move beyond fear to explore, learn, and act on their knowledge.

Why ecoliteracy? So our children can walk into a forest and feel a joyful connection with that place.


  • Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv. A look at the importance of nature in childhood, exploring ways to renew connections between children and natural places. 
  • Sharing Nature with Children and Sharing the Joy of Nature, Joseph Cornell. Activities that inspire reconnection with nature. 
  • "Environmental Learning and Experience," David Zandvliet (Simon Fraser University) and Richard Kool (Royal Roads University). A new document that shows how environmental learning connects with the BC curriculum. www.bced.gov.bc.ca/environment_ed 
  • Environmental Educators’ Provincial Specialist Association (EEPSA). Supporting leadership and curriculum for environmental education. bctf.ca/eepsa 
  • Environmental Educators of British Columbia (EEBC). A network of formal and informal environmental educators in BC. www.environmentaleducatorsbc.ca/index.cfm  
  • Nature-Child Reunion. A BC group whose goal is to renew the relationship between children and nature. www.naturechildreunion.ca 
  • Walking the Talk: The BC Network for Sustainability Education. A network that links formal and informal sustainability educators in BC. www.walkingthetalk.bc.ca

Tricia Edgar connects people with natural places through her work with Turning Leaf Consulting (www.turningleafconsulting.ca) and the Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre.

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