A Day Hike Designed to Promote Environmental Literacy

Article excerpt


This paper introduces a theoretical framework and practical means of teaching environmental literacy through the explanation of a structured day hike experience with university students along the Bruce Trail in the Niagara Region of Ontario, Canada. Environmental literacy is about deeply knowing the details and histories of particular settings and has become increasingly popular for directing outdoor and environmental education experiences. However, what it means to be environmentally literate is a topic for debate and is often difficult to articulate and describe to those who are unfamiliar with the term. Stables (1998) described an environmental literacy framework that is useful for teaching different ways of learning about and experiencing natural environments. Stables' framework was based upon functional, cultural, and critical elements, which coalesce to create a holistic approach to understanding environmental literacy. The purpose of this article is to describe an interactive approach for teaching environmental literacy by using a theoretical framework as a guide for practice.

KEYWORDS: Environmental literacy, outdoor education, environmental education


The topic of environmental literacy has become increasingly popular in outdoor recreation theory and practice as a means to foster person-place relationships (Curthoys & Cuthbertson, 2002). Environmental literacy can be used as an approach to outdoor and environmental education, which actively engages learners with multiple processes and histories of a particular setting (Stables & Bishop, 2001). Stables (1998) described a utilitarian approach that can be used to teach environmental literacy through identifying functional, cultural, and critical ways of learning about natural environments. Functional literacy is one's ability to interpret objective information such as identifying the name of a specific tree and knowing if the tree is native to a specific region. Understandings of cultural literacy focus on human histories and the different roles of people within a particular setting over time. Critical literacy is the ability of a person to define and understand his or her relationship to a particular setting and to recognize what practices and behaviors protect that relationship and the environment.

Stables (1998) proceeded to theorize that these environmental literacies are interdependent and can work reciprocally to help others more fully know, learn, and experience natural landscapes. While there are some limitations to such a framework, its practical applications to outdoor related professions are valuable. In particular, it can be used as an advantageous teaching framework when facilitating experiences in and out of the classroom that aspire to expose students to multiple ways of understanding natural environments. It should be noted that this article focuses on aspects of a hike involved with promoting environmental literacy and does not cover aspects such as trip planning or risk management procedures.

Preparation for Day Hike Experience

The day hike described here is suggested as an interactive method for teaching students about environmental literacy through the use of Stables' (1998) framework. This hike was facilitated during a semester-long course on environmental literacy. Prior to the hike, students had been given a presentation on Stables' theory, completed readings related to functional, cultural, and critical environmental literacy, and conducted research on the natural history of the Niagara Region. Students also had many opportunities to discuss the concepts in detail and apply them during in-class meetings. The hike was comprised of multiple components with an overarching purpose to provide students with an opportunity to put environmental literacy theory into practice.

Structure of Day Hike and Learning Activities

The hike took place on the Bruce Trail along the Niagara Escarpment in Southern Ontario. …


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