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Environmental Education Definition and Requirements

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What is Environmental Education?

The Wisconsin Environmental Education Board defines environmental education as “a lifelong learning process that leads to an informed and involved citizenry having the creative problem-solving skills, scientific and social literacy, ethical awareness and sensitivity for the relationship between humans and the environment, and commitment to engage in responsible individual and cooperative actions. By these actions, environmentally literate citizens will help ensure an ecologically and economically sustainable environment.” 

Read more about environmental education and find additional resources on, including: 

Is Environmental Education Required?

State law requires that every school district develop and implement a kindergarten through grade 12 sequential curriculum plan for environmental education (see the Wisconsin Education 20 Standards). In addition, environmental education objectives and activities shall be integrated into the kindergarten through grade 12 sequential curriculum plans, with the greatest emphasis in art, health, science and social studies education [see Wisconsin Administrative Code PI 8.01(2)(k]. Curriculum planning can be guided by using the Wisconsin Standards for Environmental Literacy and Sustainability.

Teachers must also be prepared to teach environmental education and those with licenses in early childhood regular education, elementary and middle school regular education, science, and social studies must demonstrate knowledge and understanding in environmental education including the conservation of natural resources. [PI 34.022(2)]

Attention Educators! Are you wondering how environmental education could fit in your Professional Development Plan (PDP)? Check out these samples: Elementary or High School.


Environmental Education included in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Language in ESSA makes environmental education explicitly eligible for funding under Title IV: 

  • Environmental education is called out as eligible for funding under "well-rounded education" grants program
  • Environmental literacy programs are eligible for funding as part of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program 
  • The prioritization of STEM activities including "hands-on learning" and "field-based or service-learning" to enhance understanding of STEM subjects provides additional opportunities for environmental education programs

Download the fact sheet from the North American Association for Environmental Education


Strategic Plan to Advance Environmental Literacy

Environmental Literacy Plan

Wisconsin's Plan to Advance Education for Environmental Literacy and Sustainability in PK-12 Schools provides strategies for statewide collaboration to increase student academic achievement, improve student health, and save schools money through education for environmental literacy and sustainability. Download the entire document or the executive summary.

Environmental Literacy

The ultimate goal for environmental education is environmental literacy. NAAEE in their Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines for Learning (K-12) (p2) define it this way: “Environmentally literate students possess the knowledge, intellectual skills, attitudes, experiences and motivation to make and act upon responsible environmental decisions. Environmentally literate students understand environmental processes and systems, including human systems. They are able to analyze global, social, cultural, political, economic and environmental relationships, and weigh various sides of environmental issues to make responsible decisions as individuals, as members of their communities, and as citizens of the world. (Adapted from Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature, April 2009)”

People who are environmentally literate understand the earth's ability to sustain human and other life. They take action and are involved in their community to help sustain our natural resources so that people can create and enjoy a high quality life for themselves and the future generations. This can be achieved through providing a balanced, academically-based environmental education as part of the curriculum. Breaking down walls between academic disciplines and other areas of environmental study to allow for integration will be essential to helping students become effective, productive, responsible, and environmentally literate 21st century citizens.

For questions about this information, contact Victoria Rydberg (608) 266-0419