Research and Data

Peer-reviewed research reveals that environmental education and outdoor experiences can improve student learning and behavior. It has also been shown to aid students with learning disabilities. Time spent outdoors benefits adults in similar ways. We encourage the use of the following information in articles, grant-writing or other research. 

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The following organizations conduct, promote and support research related to the benefits of environmental education and outdoor learning environments.

North American Association for Environmental Education EEPRO Research
NAAEE's new website platform has a research database, an EE Research Bulletin and other research resources in video and other interactive formats!

National Environmental Education Foundation
The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) is a non-profit organization that advances environmental education through learning-oriented solutions to environmental problems.

The Children & Nature Network Research Library
C&NN has a premier set of research studies to help us all understand the connection between nature and the healthy development of children.

Natural Learning Initiative
The Natural Learning Initiative is a Research and Design Assistance Program of the College of Design at North Carolina State University. Its mission is to help communities create stimulating places for play, learning, and environmental education.

Landscape and Human Health Laboratory
The LHHL at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a multidisciplinary research laboratory dedicated to studying the connection between greenery and human health.

The Office of Environmental Education has mulitple GIS datasets, web maps, and applications on North Carolina's river basins, ecology, environmental education resources, and more. These apps can be used as-is or modified to meet your needs.

Visit our GIS Resource page to find out about GIS basics, datasets, maps, and applications available through the Office and other organizations.

Dr. Kathryn Stevenson and her talented team work to identify drivers of environmental literacy among k-12 students. They uncover and examine the myriad of benefits of time in nature and environmental education for children, and we also highlight how children might be agents of change in the context of environmental challenges.

A selection of notable new and classic papers, articles and studies.

Sending "Learning Styles" Out of Style. For years, the concept of learning styles we emphasized as a way to make learning accessable to differnt types of learners (visual, auditory, diverger, accommondator, etc). However, current reserach and practice shows litte support that we learn better if taught from our prefered "learning style." This entertaining cartoon from Smithsonian Science Education explains this, and also gives some great strategies for environmental educators on how to use multiple techniques that will enhance learning for everyone in their programs. It also has links to research that "debunks" the concept of learning styles and gives alternate ideas for differentiated learning.

Collaboration + Good Coffee + Connected Science Learning Success: State Agencies Partner to Unite Formal and Informal Educators in North Carolina, NCSTA Connected Science Learning, May 2017. D. Hall, B. Tipton, L. Tolley and M. Wiggins. Our office co-authored this journal artilce with N.C. Department of Public Instruction Science Consultants to explain the unique partnership between our agenices, and most importantly the strong partnership between classroom teachers and environmental educators and informal science educators in North Carolina. It has many, many great examples of schools and environmetnal educators working together!

The Benefits of Environmental Education for K-12 Students NAAEE and Stanford Univeristy through eeWORKS 
"Experts at Stanford University systematically searched the academic literature and analyzed 119 peer-reviewed studies published over a 20-year period that measured the impacts of environmental education for K-12 students. The review found clear evidence that environmental education programs provide a variety of benefits."

The Human Relation With Nature and Technological Nature Peter H. Kahn, Jr., Rachel L. Severson, and Jolina H. Ruckert This interesting paper looks at the idea of "environmental generational amnesia," the idea that each generations concept of nature changes with new technologies, pollution and other effects on the environment.

Is Green Education Blue or Red? State-Level Environmental Education Program Development Through the Lens of Red- and Blue-State Politics Richard Craig Crouch and Dorian S. Abbot (2009)

Place-Based Education Evaluation Collaborative - Quantifying a Relationship Between Place-based Learning and Environmental Quality EPA-funded study shows that environmental education programs can measurably improve environmental quality.

Natural Learning Initiative Research and Projects Located within the N.C. State University School of Design, the NLI provides research, technical assistance and case studies on natural outdoor playspaces.

Significant Life Experiences: A New Research Area in Environmental Education Thomas Tanner (1980)
This often-cited study provides evidence that those in conservation-related careers had positive, frequent experiences in nature. Tanner suggests that effective EE that gets children outside is essential to a sustainable future.

Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning Gerald A. Lieberman and Linda L. Hoody, State Education and Environment Roundtable This is a classic paper, often sited to show the effectiveness of environmental education in the classroom.

One of the hallmarks of quality environmental education is content that is age and developmentally appropriate for the audience. David Sobel of Antioch University New England is widely respected for his work in this area, which is addressed in the first article excerpt and video. We've also included some other articles and opinion pieces that address this important topic.

Beyond Ecophobia, David Sobel 

Global Climate Change Meets EcoPhobia, David Sobel (YouTube speech)

Nurturing Children's Biophilia: Developmentally Appropriate Environmental Education for Young Children, Randy White and Vicki L. Stoecklin, White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group, 2008

Natural Wonders: A Guide to Early Childhood for Environmental Educators, Minnesota Early Childhood Environmental Education Consortium, 2002

"Save The Elephants: Don’t Buy Ivory Soap" This thought-provoking piece by Katie Slivovsky was originally presented at the 2001 AZA Docents Conference appeared in the "My Turn" section of NewsWeek in 2004. It addresses many of the issues surrounding age-appropriate EE.

Helpful ideas and research on outdoor learning environments.

Our friends at the Natural Learning Initiative at N.C. State University specialize in outdoor learning environments and have a wealth of information and resources.

Making the Most of Outdoor Time with Preschool Children, NC Cooperative Extension

Preschool Outdoor Environment Measurement Scale (POEMS), Available from Kaplan, Inc. This instrument provides a valid, reliable tool for assessing the quality of outdoor environments and their use and at the same time provide guidance to childcare professionals and site administrators to assist them in making improvements. This instrument was developed by an interdisciplinary team of university and cooperative extention faculty and staff. 

Outdoor Play: Combating Sedentary Lifestyles, by Betsy Thigpen in Sept. 2007 issue of Zero to Three

Writing an article, grant or position paper on environmental education or the benefits of outdoor experiences? There's a wealth of information out there to pull from, but citing peer-reviewed research backs up your statements and is essential to making a good argument. NAAEE, NEEF, Children and Nature Network and other sources have many peer reviewed sources to choose from:

North American Association for Environmental Education EE Research 

National Environmental Education Foundation 

Children and Nature Network Searchable Research Library

Environmental Education Research

The Journal of Environmental Education

Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education, Outdoor Council of Australia