Research Supporting Environmental Literacy

One of the most comprehensive and systematic literature reviews of impacts of environmental education for K-12 students was conducted by experts at Stanford University under the leadership of Dr. Nicole Ardoin. The North American Association for Environmental Education houses a series of webpages dedicated to this on the eeWorks site, including an executive summary and key findings, academic benefits, selected study summaries, and a messaging guide, among other resources.

Key Findings from The Benefits of Environmental Education for K-12 Students

In studies reviewed, environmental education was shown to improve:

  • Knowledge in science, mathematics, reading, writing, and more

  • Emotional and social skills, such as self-esteem, character development, team work, and leadership skills

  • Environmentally friendly behavior, such as reducing water use, increasing recycling, and participating in community cleanups

  • Academic skills (21st century skills), such as critical thinking, oral communication, analytical skills, problem solving, and higher-order thinking

  • Motivation to learn, including enthusiasm for and interest in school

  • Civic interest and engagement, including feelings of civic responsibility, feelings of empowerment, and ability to take action

Researchers at Stanford University conducted a separate analysis on the benefits of environmental education and nature connections in early childhood.

Key Findings from The Benefits of Environmental Education and Nature Connections in Early Childhood

In studies reviewed, early childhood environmental education was shown to:

  • Increase learning in a range of areas including mathematics, science, language, and literacy

  • Enhance social and emotional skills

  • Contribute to better physical development

  • Improve environmental cognition, attitudes, and behavior

  • Build knowledge and skills that lay the foundation for more environmentally responsible and engaged adults

In addition to these two substantial research-based analyses, more research about environmental literacy can be found on NAAEE’s eeResearch Library, NAAEE’s eeWorks page, and on the Children & Nature Networks Research Library.

Research Supporting MWEEs as a Powerful Educational Tool

Environmental literacy plans should include opportunities for students to engage in MWEEs at least once in elementary, middle, and high school. Specific MWEE benefits that you might consider lifting up include:

  • Increased Student Interest and Engagement

  • Support Student Achievement

  • Advance 21st Century Skills

  • Advance Environmental Stewardship and Civic Responsibility

  • Promote Equity and Environmental Justice

Additional research citations and references supporting MWEEs can be found on the Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) National MWEE Resources webpage.

Research Supporting Sustainable Schools

Sustainable Schools efforts should also be embedded in district environmental literacy plans. Green schoolyards foster students’ social, physical, and intellectual growth and health by providing settings for curiosity, collaboration, and exploration. When students learn and grow in a school environment that actually models the practices that they are learning about, they are more likely to see themselves in these environmental solutions. Specific benefits of schools that use these practices are highlighted in two papers authored by the Green Schoolyard America, The Power and Potential of Green Schoolyards and The Green Schoolyard Movement. Benefits include:

  • Educational Attainment

  • Improved Teacher Satisfaction

  • Healthier Lifestyles

  • Improved Wellbeing

  • Empowerment

  • Stewardship