Environmental Education:
“Eco-Kids” Project in Iran

By Asefeh Pishro
Environment Expert and Volunteer
Plan4theLand, Tehran, IRAN

Plan4theLand is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to promote conservation of wildlife and biodiversity in Iran. Eco-Kids is Plan4theLand’s environmental education program for children and youth. Environmental education is new in Iran, and so we are exploring innovative and creative educational approaches as we encourage children to work cooperatively for environmental conservation. The Eco-Kids program is now in most of the urban regions of Iran. The children, parents, and educators have expressed great enthusiasm for the program.

In Iran, support is building for green schools and nature schools, and information about the environment has been added to course books. Despite difficulties and limitations, my colleagues and I in Plan4theLand will continue the Eco-Kids program, collaborating with volunteers and pursuing innovative ideas to encourage environmental awareness and stewardship.

Children and the Environment
Childhood is an important stage of life in terms of physical and mental growth, and thus is an appropriate time to cultivate a respect for the environment and a dedication to sustainability. Children have spectacular learning power, and they can have a significant impact on the future. The environment plays an important role in children’s and adolescents’ life experiences. If children are prepared to consider environmental issues and the consequences of urban development, they can ultimately help cities resolve their environmental problems. Children who are sensitive to their urban environment will be more likely to become creative change agents for the cities when they become adults.

Programs that involve children in nature conservation help them understand the importance of responsibility and respectful interactions with the environment. Children are inherently curious about their surroundings and naturally consider themselves as part of their environment. They readily express great compassion when considering the dangers affecting the natural world. If environmental education is provided to children between 6 and 12 years old, they will be more likely to behave responsibly toward nature and understand their own responsibility for protecting the environment.

Environmental Education and Children’s Cooperative Activities
Child’s rights movements stress a child’s right to education and to a sustainable environment for a secure future. Environmental education supports the growth of a child as a conscientious citizen, shaping beliefs and providing skills for innovation that will support conservation and sustainability. Children react differently to the natural environment and an urban environment. Thus, learning about nature is particularly important for children living in urban environments.

Global movements are stressing the importance of children volunteering and being involved in cooperative activities. Such activities are ideal ways to protect the environment from harm due to increasing urbanization. Adolescents, in particular, like to be called on to cooperate and help with decision-making about environmental affairs in their city.
The Eco-Kids program implements environmental clubs that emphasize children’s cooperation and decision-making regarding environmental affairs through multigenerational, national, and global citizenship efforts.

Eco-Kids Program by Plan4theLand
Plan4theLand began environmental education through the Eco-Kids Program in 2014. By 2015, 64 schools and 9,823 students had received environmental education from 479 instructors.

The program, for 7- to 12-year-olds, addresses many environmental subjects, such as conservation of wildlife, biodiversity, waste and recycling, energy consumption, clean energy, etc. Educational games have been developed about these topics to increase children’s enjoyment of the lessons. Plan4theLand collaborates with other NGOs to design these educational games. The children have learned about environment issues through puzzles, origami, dominoes, bowling, memory cards, films, painting, crafts, books, face painting, music performances, etc. The children enter an “environmental educational tunnel”; as they pass through, they play the games and participate in the activities, while learning about various environmental concepts and issues.

The origami activity, for example, helps familiarize children with the wildlife of Iran, especially endangered species, including: Persian leopard, Asian black bear, bottlenose dolphin, flamingo, whales, and the hawksbill and green sea turtles. In another activity, children learn about waste recycling by throwing balls with labels that define different kinds of waste into separated buckets. During the face-painting activity, various animals are painted on the children’s faces while they receive information about the animals’ habitats, food, etc. After they complete the program, the children receive a certificate and become a member of an Eco-Kids club.

Goals and Scopes of Eco-Kids Program
1.     Consider how consumption patterns affect the environment
2.     Create networks between educated students who are interested in environmental conservation
3.     Promote environmental conservation as a social responsibility
4.     Build sensitivity and increase knowledge about the environment
5.     Recognize the value of nature conservation by children and adolescents
6.     Change the approach of teaching children and adolescents about environmental issues
7.     Develop a sustainable, cooperative network through environmental conferences and ecotourism trips.

Feedback and Effects of the Eco-Kids Program
When I talk with the children about endangered species in Iran, I can see their compassion and enthusiasm for conservation reflected on their faces. When I say we are going to talk about an environmental issue, such as energy consumption, wildlife, waste and recycling, they share their observations and experiences and analyze the circumstances from their own perspectives. Sometimes, they criticize adults’ behavior regarding energy consumption, recycling, or treatment of animals. I have read The Giving Tree (by Shel Silverstein) with the children and I can see regret and sorrow on their faces as they consider the destruction of trees and nature. We talk with the children about lost and destroyed environments, and listen to their suggestions for restoring nature. When I return to schools where we have presented the program, the students remember the environmental issues very well.

The Eco-Kids program is evolving day-to-day through the efforts of volunteers. Although we know about limitations and difficulties of such cooperative work, we are determined to reach our goal of conserving the environment through environmental education and cooperative activities with children.