We introduce educators to conservation education and why it's important, with guidance on how it can be incorporated into your school curriculum.

On this page:

Value of conservation education

Conservation education provides authentic opportunities for learning and gives Early Childhood Centres and schools an opportunity to connect with their local community in a meaningful way.

Teaching conservation education is not an added extra, or more work. It is about providing your students with a real-life context on which to base their learning, and an opportunity to apply their learning to authentic local community opportunities.

Conservation is not an abstract or theoretical concept … it’s about our natural environment and the plants, animals and birds that live in our very own backyards, school playgrounds, local parks and reserves as well as the public conservation land found further afield in Aotearoa.

The Department of Conservation sees conservation education as a component of the larger umbrella that is environmental education (EE) or education for sustainability (EfS). Integrated into EE teaching are the three dimensions of learning About, In and For the environment.

Graphic of resource dimensions: about/in/for the environment.

Education ABOUT the environment - developing knowledge and skills

Curriculum-based learning and inquiry, usually in the classroom. Education ABOUT the environment develops awareness and understanding of environmental issues.

Education IN the environment - connecting to nature and place

Education outside – place-based learning. Education IN the environment fosters values and attitudes by encouraging personal growth and well-being through direct contact with nature.

Education FOR the environment - taking action to restore, grow and protect

Applying skills, knowledge and values to take environmental action and participate in local restoration. Education FOR the environment increases a sense of responsibility, confidence and empowerment through participating in active citizenship and taking collective action to resolve environmental issues.

Best practice

Best practice conservation education results in a range of outcomes. Through students applying acquired knowledge, skills and values, they can actively take a leadership role for a range of real life local conservation issues. These educational outcomes lead to tangible, on the ground conservation outcomes (eg increased biodiversity, predator-free environments and collecting data for citizen science initiatives). 

You can draw from a range of pedagogies to guide planning for conservation education, including the following. 

Nature-based and free play learning

  • Young children naturally engaging in learning about the environment through informal unrestricted play with others.
  • Older children having opportunities to socialise and build friendships through an outdoor context.

Place-based learning

  • Children and young people experiencing and exploring their immediate surroundings.
  • Opportunities to identify and take action on real-life, local issues.

Māori world views

  • Incorporating cultural knowledge, kaupapa and te reo Māori.
  • Exploring different perspectives about the environment. For example, the Western world view has historically separated humanity from nature compared to the Māori conservation ethic based on the belief of all life being connected.

Cross-curricula learning

  • Using conservation education context to teach/learn in different curriculum areas.
  • Exploring different community viewpoints about the importance of and use of the natural environment.

Inquiry or project-based learning

  • A learning journey that starts with an open-ended question, followed by students collaborating with each other, showing what they have learned and assessing themselves and each other multiple times.
  • Developing a solution using evidence to support the claim and presented through multi-methods of communication.

Future-focused or 21st century learning

  • Learning that is relevant and authentic in relation to young peoples’ interests and concerns.
  • Forming new kinds of partnerships between schools and the wider community.
  • Young people developing their capacity to create knowledge rather than merely consuming knowledge.

Appropriate for every age and stage

developmentally appropriate conservation education.
Developmentally appropriate conservation education in relation to the stages of childhood development

As a child grows and changes, so does their ability to understand and explore the world. Therefore, effective conservation education uses teaching and learning methods most appropriate for the age and developmental stage of a student.

Broadly, the focus of conservation education in early childhood should encourage children to explore and experience their local environment through nature- based play.

From this foundation, conservation education in the middle years of childhood can be extended into participating in local conservation opportunities in home and school life where students can apply their learning and take action for the environment.

Finally, with adolescence comes the application of knowledge, skills and values through participating and collaborating in conservation.

Our integrated inquiry learning cycle

All of our latest education resources on this website are based on our integrated inquiry learning cycle. The cycle is a process for guiding student directed learning and co-constructing a pathway of inquiry when learning in a conservation context.

An inquiry learning approach provides a project management framework to support students to plan their investigations and implement their actions. Integrated curriculum, project based learning builds on knowledge, skills and perspectives already developed and allows students to apply these and contribute to real-life authentic action.

Teachers and students can select material and parts of activities from the resources to suit their learning inquiries. The resources are not meant to be taught from beginning to end, but can serve as a pool of ideas to draw from. 

More about inquiry learning and using the inquiry cycle.

The Big Picture

The Big Picture arrow and earth.

There are between 30 and 50 trillion stars out there in somewhere between 80 and 140 billion galaxies, but Earth is the only place we call home. It’s all we have (that is, until we catch up with Star Trek).

For life to survive and thrive here we need to understand that we are all part of one natural world.

Without fresh air, water, seas, fertile soils, forests, animals and plants, we humans couldn’t survive. Everything, even the tiniest of bugs, has a role to play, and that includes us.

You are part of your local environment. You, your school and your neighbourhood are all part of a bigger ecosystem. Everything is connected – from the deepest ocean to outer space – and what we do, does make a difference.

The Big Picture values

These are drawn from the Māori perspective of the natural world. Use these as a starting point to explore your own values about the natural world.

  • Aroha means ‘love’ but it actually refers to a lot more than that. It is about compassion for the environment and understanding the environment. We are all connected to the natural world.
  • Manaaki means ‘to look after and to care for’. It is our responsibility to be good kaitiaki/guardians for the natural world. If we don’t look after and care for the resources, then we will not have them in the future. It is part of our responsibility to manaaki everything within the natural world.
  • Wairua means ‘spirit’. Everything within the Māori world has a spirit. Wairua is mainly associated with living things, with people, and humans. Wairua is about feeling and hearing the essence that is around us in the natural world.
  • Tapu means sacred. Every part of the natural world, including ourselves has tapu. Some places have a tapu placed on them if they are sacred or for spiritual reasons.
  • Mauri means the life force or life essence. All things are united through mauri. People are part of the natural world and connected through mauri. The mauri of the natural world has been weakened by pests and habitat destruction, but we can restore mauri by looking after our environment.
  • Mana means respect, power, authority, and relates to dignity. From the Māori world view, everything has mana within the natural world.

The Big Picture ideas

Everything is connected

Global/everything is connected icon.

Ko au ko te taiao, ko te taiao ko au

I am the environment, the environment is me

  • The planet is made up of a number of interconnected systems.
  • Everything in an ecosystem has a role to play.
  • Changing anything in an ecosystem impacts on everything else. It is often difficult to predict what the consequences of any change might be.

The planet’s diversity is critical to our survival

Global/diversity icon.

Toitū te marae a Tāne, Toitū te marae a

Tangaroa, Toitū te Tangata

If we care for the resources of the land and the sea, we, the people, will survive.  

  • The health, well-being, and survival of humans depends on the health, well-being and survival of our planet’s ecosystems.

People are part of the natural world

Global/everything is connected icon.

He nohonga ngātahitanga ahau me te taiāo

We live as one with our natural world

  • People’s actions can impact both negatively and positively on the environment.
  • Individuals, especially young people, can make a positive difference to ecosystems.

Aotearoa/New Zealand is a special place because of its many unique species and ecosystems

Aotearoa/New Zealand icon.

Kāore he wāhi i kō atu i a Aotearoa me ōna koiora, me ona waahi ahurei

There is no place in the world like

Aotearoa with its special biodiversity and unique ecosystems

  • Many of the species and ecosystems unique to New Zealand are threatened.
  • If New Zealand’s unique species die out, they disappear from the planet.
  • Because of New Zealand’s long isolation from other land masses, many native species are vulnerable to the activities of people and introduced mammals.
  • New Zealand’s natural world is part of who we are as New Zealanders.

More information

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