Love of Learning: Observations of Environmental Education

In order to be a great educator, you have to love learning.

Educators need their own sense of adventure, curiosity and excitement about their subject in order to transfer it to their students. Rachel Carson outlined the importance of this idea well with this quote:

If a child is to keep alive their inborn sense of wonder, they need the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with them the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.


Frick Environmental Center education team members. 

At the Frick Environmental Center, we offer programming that connects children to nature in the city, and encourages them to explore and learn about their local environment.  For some students, our programs are their first experience in a wild setting and a whole new world is revealed to them. They see the relationship between themselves, their community and the environment in a new light.


Environmental Center educators observing the local flora.

I love being the adult that introduces kids to nature. Like many of you, getting outside with my parents, scout masters and teachers led to a lifetime appreciation and commitment to the environment. Their enthusiasm about nature and the outdoors was contagious. As an educator, I want to recreate that with my students.

Earlier this month, the Parks Conservancy’s education team attended the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators conference at Lake Raystown Lodge.  It was amazing to be in such a beautiful setting, surrounded by educators from across the state that shared our passion for nature and environmental education. The conference was an opportunity to meet new people, reconnect with colleagues, share experiences and expertise, and gain new ideas for our programs. Workshops covered a wide range of topics including the value of nature play, leading an interpretive hike, and connecting with the outdoors using technology.

For me, the best workshops balanced big picture education philosophy, practical mechanics of program delivery, and the opportunity for us to participate in activities as students. In a particularly amazing nature journaling workshop, an impassioned educator stressed that nature journaling should go beyond impartial scientific observations to capture students’ experiences and feelings. For her, a successful journal entry should recreate and transport a student back to a moment in time. She provided tips on preparing students to be comfortable, capturing information through writing and drawing, and using all of our senses to make observations.


Journaling at the PAEE conference.


When we put her tips into practice by going out to journal, I was reminded of the value of taking time to stop and wait for the world to reveal itself.  I was also reminded how easy it is to forget instructions and lose focus in a cold drizzle; how hard it is to sit silent and still for 10 minutes; and how awkward it can feel to share a drawing you’re not particularly proud of. It gave me a better understanding of the students I work with and an appreciation that what really matters is providing an experience.

The conference gave me an opportunity to recharge, reconnect, and revisit why I do what I do. It reaffirmed that the most important thing I can do as an educator is to share my own love of nature.

Taiji Nelson, Naturalist Educator

Dear Journal,

In this week’s blog post, we have to give it up to some grade A high school students.

Students from Perry, Pittsburgh Science and Technology, City High, Ellis, and Westinghouse High Schools have been gearing up in gators and gloves all year as High School Urban EcoStewards, taking on ecological restoration projects in the parks while learning about science and stewardship. As part of this program, students are given time to find quiet places in the park to observe, reflect, and  journal about their experiences. This week, as we say goodbye to this year’s High School Urban EcoStewards, we want to thank them for their work and share some of their entries. 


Walking from point A to B
Not just to plant some trees
We learned about invasive species and natives, too
It’s really hard work that we do
Working in snow, sleet, and rain
Definitely does not ease our pain
But the thought of us making our earth a better place
Keeps a smile upon our face
Sprained ankle, and sick to the bone
I was determined to come for what there was to learn
We dedicate our bodies and time just to balance the world
We don’t discriminate — you can be a boy or a girl
Everyone is welcome to join a great cause
For this experience deserves an infinite amount of applause
I want to say thank you to Bailey and the staff
We got to talk and even got to laugh
I had a great time and I can finally say
An EcoSteward is what I’ll stay
-Ronnay, Pittsburgh Science and Technology



Students got up close to plants in the park, observing and learning through the journals they kept.  They made detailed sketches of invasive species such as jetbead to take note of distinctive characteristics. This helped them learn to properly identify and remove these plants on their site.

The park in the fall
Red, orange, yellow leaves
The rain makes me calm
-A High School Urban EcoSteward from Ellis


Students are taken on neighborhood walks, where they visit three sites around their schools’s neighborhood and sketch each site from a bird’s eye view. After, they determine what percentage of the site is permeable (water can seep through it) and impermeable (water cannot seep through it) to learn how green spaces impact storm water management.



Throughout their experience as High School Urban EcoStewards, students develop the skills and confidence to take concrete action to improve the natural environment. Given the time to thoughtfully observe, explore, reflect and restore, they become conscientious stewards of the world around them. We thank them for all of their hard work this year!