One of the goals of the Environmental Board is to foster a sense of responsibility and economy in the people of Estonia – particularly young people – in regard to nature. To achieve this, the Education Department provides schools and children’s institutions with a range of nature studies programmes.
We are fierce supporters of outdoor learning, as it gives children the chance to discover the diversity of their natural environment and the importance of protective values first-hand. It also allows them to study the interaction between organisms in different communities in every season of the year.
We strive to make environment-related education as practical and as engaging as possible. For example, we teach children about sorting rubbish or talk to local communities about the economic use of the land and forests on their closest nature reserve. Environmental education workers are constantly exchanging information and experiences in order to enrich kindergarten and school classes with exciting, tangible examples.
We run quizzes and information days and organise field trips to companies which make use of natural resources. For example, by showing children how clay is used at the Aseri ceramics factory, we hope to press the message that they hear in the classroom home, as they see these things with their own eyes. We also work with nature conservation specialists to introduce more and more air and water-related topics into study programmes, to talk about hunting and fishing, and to highlight the problems related to waste management.
Each season we arrange nature trips suited to different age groups on which, through games and fun activities, the children learn interesting facts about nature and the environment. Acquiring new knowledge is easier when you use more of your senses. This way we can draw actual connections between what happens in the natural environment and what the children learn in other subjects at school – since nature often forms part of studies of language, literature, history, chemistry, physics, mathematics and other subjects. What we do is about showing the children that what they learn at school and what happens in the real world is very much related: we try to break down the barrier between the two.
The Education Department of the Environmental Board is constantly looking for new ideas. In order to avoid overlaps, we work with other centres offering environment-related education and set out our plans on our website. We keep in touch with a variety of teaching institutions and associations so as to make the most effective use of the opportunities they provide. We also do cross-border work with Latvia and Finland.
Our educational activities are not solely aimed at children. Study programmes can also be organised as company team training, as can nature hikes among groups of friends. In order to foster an interest in nature and environmentally friendly values in people we publish booklets, produce information boards for nature trails and put together exhibits for centres in protected areas.
All our publications of environmental protection and protected areas are available here.
Aquatic studies enjoy enormous popularity
Our programme for the study of aquatic life is hugely popular among school children. You will almost always find a suitable pond, lake, river or other body of water close to a school in which the goings on can be investigated, whether you are in the city or the country. To begin, an environmental education specialist explains to the students what they must not do in the area so as to ensure that the plants and animals are not disturbed or damaged. Then the students are given nets to start catching and collecting animals from the water.
The animals they collect are then immediately and carefully transferred to a container filled with water and, led by the teacher, the students then determine what the animal is and study its characteristics. The instructor tells the students about the animal, its way of life and how it interacts with other aquatic creatures and plants. Each student then chooses one animal to independently study in greater detail. They complete worksheets on which they draw pictures of the animal, including the patterns on its skin or shell as seen through a magnifying glass. They also describe the animal’s appearance and the way it moves, and try to work out what it might feed on. Finally they put together a poem about the animal using the words with which they described it. Finally, they release the animal back into the water.
Something that often happens on such field trips, to the amazement of teachers, is that the most rambunctious students in the class prove to be the most enthusiastic and disciplined naturalists. Children who take part in the programme enjoy a hands-on experience in the natural environment and learn a lot of new things. We always encourage them to pursue their investigations at home, if they have a pond or similar feature in their garden, or somewhere nearby. That way they realise that you don’t always have to travel a long way to a special nature reserve to discover the real life of the natural environment – it is there to find in their own backyards.
Junior Ranger camp in Vilsandi. Photo: Maris Sepp