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Engaging families in environmental education: How action, critical thinking, and social learning can foster change



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Families are important drivers of sustainability yet little research has studied how to engage them in environmental education. Therefore, a family environmental education program based on action, critical thinking, and social learning was developed and piloted that provided five households (17 participants in total) with the opportunity to pursue environmentally responsible change in their lives throughout a five-month timeframe. Participants were asked to (a) set and pursue action-oriented, environmentally responsible goals with their family members, (b) analyze their daily (in)actions (e.g., through photographs, family and multihousehold discussions, and journal writing), and (c) locate resources that would engage them in environmental learning and action. Data collection methods included family interviews, multihousehold focus groups, and personal journals. The data were coded using inductive analysis and the research was framed within a participatory action research methodology. The research findings indicate that involvement in the program led participants to engage in environmentally responsible action and helped them to identify areas that they wished to take action on in the future. This was particularly due to their participation with and alongside family members and other participants, as being with others who felt the environment was important was considered to be not only motivating, but valuable and enjoyable as well. Furthermore, providing participants with the opportunity to reflect upon their actions, share their ideas and knowledge with others, and discuss various sustainability-related topics prompted critical thinking and led them to identify what they felt to be the biggest barriers and supports to sustainability. Lastly, both adult and youth participants expressed that they felt formal education has an important role to play in supporting sustainability; however, they also noted that there is much room for improvement in the current educational system if it is to engage students in environmental learning and action.



Environmental Education, Family Change, Green Families, Environmental Action, Critical Thinking, Social Learning, Participatory Action Research, Household Ecology, Informal Education, Community Engagement, Socioecological Education



Master of Environment and Sustainability (M.E.S.)


School of Environment and Sustainability


Environment and Sustainability


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