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Educate/Demonstrate>Teaching Sustainability to Children

Teaching Sustainability to Children

Learn what the Lancaster County Environmental Center is doing to teach our children sustainability, responsibility, and appreciation for the world around us.

       "I think it's important to gets kids out to appreciate nature and the environment so they have a respect for it. So in the       future they want to help do their part in saving the environment some day. It's important to get adults out but if we start       with those young kids, it's easier to build that appreciation for the environment and teach them a little bit about what's in       our own backyard" (Sanchez, 2013).

The easiest way to learn a language is to start young. The same is true for learning healthy habits like eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and living sustainably. Teaching these habits at a young age plants a seed that will grow into not only a greener and healthier planet but also responsible, healthy children. One can learn about the environment and ways to leave it just the way you found it throughout one's entire life. Sustainability is a healthy habit to create and maintain from the beginning. Such as with teaching manners, etiquette, and a healthy lifestyle, teaching children how to help the environment are rules to start applying early. Lifelong learning about sustainability should begin in early childhood and should not be postponed until higher grades. Keep in mind that the early childhood period plays a key role in creating a mind shift to sustainable development (Kahriman-Özturk, Olgan, & Güler, 2012).







Lancaster County Parks and Recreation

teaching out in the Wildflower ReserveLancaster County Parks and Recreation Department's mission is to improve the wellbeing of County residents by providing facilities and programs that encourage participation in outdoor activities and foster personal action for the conservation of natural resources (About Lancaster County Parks and Recreation, 2013). The department is broken down into four sections: Administration, Recreation, Environmental Education, and Park Ranger/Security. Funded by Lancaster County government, Central Park is a place for citizens to get out and enjoy nature. It's full of hiking and biking trails, tennis courts, baseball fields, a swimming pool, and other means to enjoy the environment of Lancaster County.



Central Park is 544 acres and the Department of Parks and Recreation manages a grand total of 2,055 acres. All services are open to residents and non-residents. In addition to Central Park, where the Environmental Center is located in the center of the county, Lancaster County Parks also includes Chickies Rock Park, Speedwell Forge Park, Money Rocks Park, Theodor A. Parker III Natural Area, D.F. Buchmiller Park and Conewago Recreation Trail and Lancaster Junction Recreation Trail (rail trails)(Lancaster County Parks and Preserves, 2013).

Lancaster County Environmental Center and Shuts Environmental Library

Lancaster County Environmental Center SignThe Lancaster County Environmental Center, located on Nature's Way, offers programs about the environment to kids and adults of all ages. They strive to promote awareness and knowledge of the importance of our environment.

Lisa Sanchez, Park Naturalist, works primarily with school children. Her goal is to get children outside, get their hands dirty, and learn about nature and the environment. In her opinion, programs where the children can touch, feel, and sense what is around them are the best programs. She enjoys seeing the light in young student's eye with their fascination into bugs, flowers, and other things found in the park. While programs that feature inside-the-classroom-type situations, getting students outside is even more fun.

One program that comes to mind when asked for the best program the Environmental Center has, Sanchez immediately thought of the Maple Sugaring Program. "When it comes to one our best programs that we offer hear at the County Park…I think that's our maple-sugaring program. That happens every winter or I should say the end of every winter, last weeks of February and the first weekend in March where we bring lots of groups and we bring the public out here and show them how to collect the sap from a sugar maple tree and how to turn that sap into syrup. So that program really touches every sense, you learn a little bit of history. You touch things. You smell the syrup boiling over the fire and at the end everyone get to taste the maple candy that was made from that syrup. So for me, that's really our best program and we offer it for several weeks so that lots of people can come out and participate in that program."


The Environmental Center offers programs year round. Anyone and everyone can sign up or schedule a program taught by one of the park naturalists. The park naturalists have backgrounds in biology, ecology, education, and geology. The programs offered range from indoor to outdoor and young to old. Most programs offered are tailored from grades Kindergarten through 12th grade.

The following are a sample of the list of programs offered at the Lancaster County Environmental Center. Public programs and more information about these programs can be found at: PUBLIC PROGRAMS.


table list of school programs


table list of girl scout programs


table list of boy scout programs


table list of fees

Note: These fees are for school and non-profit groups that are based in Lancaster County. A different fee schedule applies for groups based outside of Lancaster County.
table list of fees for special interest groups

Note: These fees are for commercial and special interest groups that are based in Lancaster County. A different fee schedule applies for groups based outside of Lancaster County. 

table list of fees for

The calendar of public events can be found at These events are usually free or at a small fee (Environmental Education, 2013).

Shuts Environmental Library

Shuts Environmental LibraryA great resource at the Lancaster County Environmental Center is the gray stone house next door, Shuts Environmental Library. The Library has been offering free book lending to Lancaster County citizens since 1991 in a built by Andreas Shuts in 1769. (Shuts Environmental Library, 2010). As part of the Lancaster County Library system, Library cardholders can check out books all about nature and the environment. Getting a library card is free. Anyone interested in a library card can download the application here: APPLICATION. Fill it out and mail it to the library or stop by with your completed application and get your card the same day.




"We try to get those books that are environmentally friendly – maybe things that help you learn how to compost, help you learn how to be sustainable, build a sustainable house" (Sanchez, 2013). There is a great amount of resources at the Shuts Environmental Library for teachers. "We try to make teachers have a good experience teaching environmental science on their own. We have some of those books that have some wonderful curriculum, background information for classroom teachers, or parents, anyone who wants to teach kids or adults about nature and the environment" (Sanchez, 2013).



Teaching Sustainability
If education of sustainability is a lifelong learning process, then it should begin in the earliest years of brain development (Kahriman-Ôzturk, et. al, 2012). Involving children in programs like the ones offered at the Lancaster County Environmental Center is a good way to not only promote sustainability but also responsibility, accountability, and appreciation for what we have. Enriched environments including educational experiences alter brain structure and this process enhances all developmental domains of young children (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997).

For example, a lesson involving gardening would teach all three aspects mentioned earlier. Responsibility in that if the plant were to die, the fault would be on the gardener. The gardener is to be held accountable for the status of the plant. Also, learning the lengths it takes to grow food and keep it alive can teach children to be thankful for what they have.sign "Here lies plastic bottle.  Forgotten but never gone"

Recently, there has been an argument over the need for sustainability education within science education (Birdsall, 2013). The two topics, while somewhat similar, have been growing apart. The reason being science teachers were unable to see what sustainability education entailed. They believed it lacked the ability to engage students both personally and in the community. Science is deemed an utmost important part of an education because it is seen by the public as powerful and shapes the lives of people and development of societies (Birdsall, 2013). "A re-orientation of education for sustainability was promoted, a type of education that was interdisciplinary, values focused, participatory, and aimed to politicize students and shifted from a single focus on environmental knowledge to include understandings about a far broader range of factors that contribute to environmental issues such as societal, economic, and political factors" (Birdsall, 2013). We now can see how teaching sustainability combines the knowledge of science with values, economics, and other subjects. Sustainable Development in early childhood education plays a fundamental role in achieving goals of necessary attitudes, values, and behaviors towards environmental, economical, and social pillars of sustainability (Kahriman-özturk, Olgan, & Güler, 2012). It also develops traits like courage and perseverance (Cheong, 2005).

Taylor, Littledyke, and Eames (2009) refer to humans' entire dependence on the environment for the sustenance of life. The term "sustainability" is a very generic term. In Buchanan's (2012) findings, there are three ways used to teach the topic of sustainability: subject delivery, assessment, and resources.

Field trips, like trips to the Lancaster County Environmental Center, and guest speakers, as well as mapping exercises are the most popular examples of subject delivery. The topic of sustainability lends itself well to getting a group of students up out of their seats and outside. Buchanan (2012) mentions in his findings that this topic is interdisciplinary. He uses the example of an English class learning about advertising uses the topic of sustainability to create ads for a waste treatment plant. Even an art teacher who reuses canvas and other materials is teaching a lesson in recycling.

The second way in teaching sustainability is assessment, or putting it into practice. This is the hands-on portion of learning about the environment. Buchanan tells of a teacher who gave his students an assignment to build a model of a sustainable house. They had to think about temperature control, recycling, water use, waste disposal, etc. and then create the house using recycled materials.

The final way is resources, or just plain use of books and scholarly articles. While not the most fun way to teach, it still gets the job done. The best classes combine all three methods to teaching sustainable living.
"An education that will show us how to live as if the world mattered is vital for extending the life and livability of the planet. Both educational and government authorities share responsibility for implementing sustainable practices" (Buchanan, 2012, pg. 108).

The Language of Sustainability

In an article entitled "Dirt Language – for the Child and the World", Linda Zinbell talks about the language that describes sustainability. Certain words are used to describe how to teach sustainability. The education's approach to science maintains the view that it is technocentric as opposed to ecocentric. Meaning, technology and market forces resolve all ecological and environmental problems as opposed to valuing the environment. The key words Zinbell talks of are Intervention, Product/Design, Management, Behavior and Systems.

"Sustainability action is designed to intervene in ecological, social and economic patterns of living. Sustainable futures are shaped by our behaviors and by the products, systems and environments we design today. Products and built systems and environments can be designed and/or managed to improve both people's wellbeing and environmental sustainability. Social and economic systems can be designed, managed and/or used to improve both people's wellbeing and environmental sustainability" (Zinbell, 2013).teaching in the Wildflower Preserve

'Intervention' assumes that humans will fix all the problems the environment has through manipulation (Zinbell, 2013). An eco-centric point of view would conserve and proactively share multiple forms of seed while 'intervention' would lean towards seed selection and genetic mutation. Trust in this concept of intervention disconnects students from active citizenship because it doesn't educate the citizens of tomorrow to argue for or defend a shared common right to public land, clean water, biological diversity, genetic variability or unpolluted air" (Zinbell, 2013, pg. 5).

'Product/Design' follows about the same concept of 'intervention' but rather towards commercial solutions. For example, Zinbell talks of a time in Australia where during a drought, citizens willingly conserved water. Techno-centric approaches called for fungicides, herbicides and cloud-seeding.

'Management' is how we manage the world we live in. Zinbell pulls a quote from Henry David Thoreau to best describe this word - "the pine is no more lumber than man is, and to be made into boards and houses is no more its true and highest use than the truest use of a man is to be cut down and made into manure."

'Behavior' is much different than the rest. It's action. "Behavior is assumed to be potentially sheered by others, whereas action presupposes intention: a mind behind what is being carried out".

'Systems' is the word most used by teachers to teach children about sustainability. They learn how things work and function. "The use of 'systems' to describe the natural world in all its messy and wonderful complexity could have consequences, it could devitalize students' lively emotional engagement with the world" (Zinbell, 2013).


Sustainability is a topic that should be taught from a young age while the brain is developing other healthy habits. Schools should work to incorporate sustainability into their curriculum. Topics such as "reduce, reuse, recycle" and composting are important. Additionally, making the topic of sustainability fun can be tough. Resources like the Lancaster County Environmental Center and Shuts Environmental Library are wonderful resources in helping teachers and parents explain how to save the environment and why nature is important. Sustainability not only teaches students of all ages why the preservation of our environment is essential but also teaches responsibility, accountability, and appreciation for the world around us and what we have.

child with flowerWebsites
If you missed any of the websites listed on this page, here they are again:

Lancaster County Parks and Recreation

The Environmental Center Main Page

Schedule of Public Programs

Homeschool and Group Programs

Girl/Boy Scout Programs

Library Card Application

This site was created by Rebecca Knier at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

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