Creative Education
2011. Vol.2, No.2, 114-120
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ce.2011.22016
Environmental Education (EE) and Experiential Education:
A Promising “Marriage” for Greek Pre-School Teachers
Alexandros Georgopoulos1, Maria Birbili1, Anastasia Dimitriou2
1Department of Early Childhood Education, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece;
2Department of Educational Science in Early Childhood, Democritus University of Thrace,
Komotini, Greece.
Received February 18th, 2011; revised March 19th, 2011; accepted April 14th, 2011.
Kindergarten teachers tend to combine EE and experiential education in their every day practice as a matter of
course. The majority perceive EE as related to sensory awareness and exploration and the concomitant will to
act in a pro-environmental direction. They deal with and elaborate their pupils experiences in a way that is remi-
niscent of Colb’s learning cycle. It is not clear from the interviews whether they effectively facilitate their child-
ren’s reflection upon the acquired experience, although there is some evidence that they accompany and assist
their pupils in associating their new knowledge to that previously acquired, integrating it into new wholes and
appropriating it. They do not give any information about the elaboration of their pupils emotions developed
through the experiential educational approaches. They claim that when EE and experiential education are blen-
ded together then this can generate active citizens of the future.
Keywords: Environmental Education, Experiential Education, Preschool, Teachers
Experiential education treats the individual experiences of
pupils as educative material and exploits them in order to pro-
duce learning rather than using texts and knowledge imposed
from above by teachers as traditional education does (Dewey,
1938, 1998). This educational approach seems to be the com-
mon denominator between the overlapping and closely related
fields of environmental education (Palmer, 1998), outdoor and
adventure education, as has been recently established (Du-
mouchel, 2003). The power of EE and experiential education
acting together is recognized by workers in the field (Adkins &
Simmons, 2003). Moreover, pre-service teachers who were
trained to synergistically use both in order to develop “effective
facilitation skills and challenge traditional practice that limited
their professional development” reported positive results (Law,
2003: p. 2).
Until the late 90’s “relationships between experience and
values/action still lacked empirical support” (Bogeholz, 2006: p.
66). Then the “significant life experiences” series of articles
appeared, building the belief that direct environmental experi-
ences might have been a decisive factor in shaping behaviors of
activists (Chawla, 1998; Tanner, 1980). Interestingly, even
since 2000 there is some work which in our opinion is episte-
mologically under-theorized, with distinguished theorists (Dewey,
Kolb, Boud etc.) not being referred to, and the experiential edu-
cation component diminished into measuring the effect of
“hands-on” activities on children (see for instance Fisman,
2005; Kapyula & Wahlstrom, 2000; Poudel et al., 2005). On
the other hand there are articles which treat the theory of expe-
riential education constructively to indicate the importance of
facilitating a personal relationship between children (or even
adults) and their object of study (Brody, 2005; Meyer &
Munson, 2005) using direct experiences as the first stage of a
quite effective learning strategy.
Early childhood is a period largely neglected by environ-
mental education research (Chawla & Cushing Flanders, 2007:
p. 442) despite the desirability and feasibility of the integration
of these two disciplines (Wilson, 1994). With the exception of
a few works on that subject (Carson, 1956, 1984; Wilson,
1992), some articles dealing with preschoolers perceptions of
environ-mental issues at an international level (Palmer, 1995;
Palmer, Suggate, & Matthews, 1996; Palmer et al., 1999a;
Palmer et al., 1999b) and some work concerning the ideas of
Greek pre-school education teachers on EE (Flogaitis & Age-
lidou, 2003) that sector is still under-studied, especially as far
as concerns the compounding of EE and experiential education.
Within this context the present study set to explore early child-
hood teachers’ perceptions about the relationship between ex-
periential education and environmental education.
Data were collected through semistructured interviews with
fifteen female and one male early childhood teachers who had
at least three years of experience on EE programs. Participants
were selected from a professional development course orga-
nized by the Department of Early Childhood Education at Ari-
stotle University of Thessaloniki. The interviews took place
between March 2005 and June 2008 and lasted approximately
one hour and a half. They were all recorded and transcribed.
Interview questions were open-ended and asked participants
to talk about their interest in environmental education, what
environmental education means to them, their experience from
environmental programs they have carried out in their class-
room and their methodological choices during the program. In
order to investigate how participants themselves defined key
terms of the study (i.e. experiential learning, project method,
environmental education etc.) particular emphasis was given on
asking teachers to provide real examples of their reported
actions and choices. Asking for examples was also a strategy
that was used with the aim to ensure that there was a corre-
spondence between what teachers reported doing with their
students and what actually happened during the program. There
was also a lot of probing in order to understand teachers’ own
interpretation of experiential learning, as opposed to what they
might have memorized from books or seminars.
Data were analyzed both within cases (treating individual
accounts as whole stories) and across cases to identify common
themes. Initial categories emerged mainly from researcher
questions (expressed through interview questions) and less
from interviewees’ responses. However, as the analysis went
on, data led to more refined themes (such as “Kolb’s cycle of
expe- riential learning”).
Results and Discussion
Pairing EE and Experiential Education
In the present study the pre-school teachers of the sample
seem to integrate experiential education into EE considering
the first to be the methodological instrument of the second “par
excellence”. Although experience based learning is age specific
in preschool education and one might expect that preschool
teachers would automatically tend to refer to the experiential
approach to learning in EE, the contrary appears to be the case.
The majority seem to use in a very conscious way the experien-
tial education vocabulary in order to describe EE. In their
comments they either directly equate the two fields or they
refer to experiential methods of dealing with environmental
issues. Sometimes they even claim that “everything is experi-
ential in EE” thereby confirming the predominant position of
the one in the field of the other. They seem to launch their
educational interventions by creating the context into which
children may directly experience an environmental issue. They
want to make pupils themselves physically confront a specific
issue and avoid “speaking theoretically” about it to them. In
other words they seem to be familiar with the fundamental
requirement of experiential education, namely the direct con-
tact of children to their learning environment, the observation
of it and finally the action upon specific features of it.
EE (…) is to experience. (1)
EE (…) is a way to get to know nature, to have some ex-
periences near nature… (3)
“(…) we constructed our own greenhouse (…) we were ob-
serving how [plants] grow and we were measuring, conducting
experiments (…) and that was the point we noticed the best
results. Children were enthusiastic, they were seeing tangible
results, they were not [simply] listening, they were living, they
were experiencing. (13)
I try to relate the subject (…) to childrens experiences (…)
e.g. while dealing with refuse we went to the rubbish dump in
order for children to have the experience of what rubbish
dump means and to avoid speaking theoretically about it…
“(…) lived experience doesnt mean to make them sit in the
circle time and tell them: ‘children that is the beach and lets
discuss about it’. Let them come across [the beach] themselves,
thats what we want. (6)
“(…) everything is experiential in EE (…) you dont just see
it, you yourself [should] participate in [elaborating] the spe-
cific subject (…) we wanted (…) to give them (…) more field
work or visits i.e. experiential methods. (10)
“(…) I tried very much [to exclude] teaching and informa-
tion [in order for] children to experience in different ways…
“(…) that’s what I think the experiential approach is (…) we
felt the dirtiness and the ugliness of the schoolyard (…) no talk,
talk, talk without any results.” (15)
Nursery school teachers seem to purposefully expose child-
ren to experiences (e.g. by building a greenhouse in the
schoolyard, conducting experiments or going to the beach)
which in their judgement produce “the greatest results”. They
seem to believe that by creating that direct contact to the object
they want to examine (e.g. the seaside) instead of behaving as a
“go-between” teacher who might simply “talk, talk, talk, with-
out any results” about that same place, their pupils will enjoy
and profit from the “lived experience”. It is obvious they con-
sider experience effective, and although they don’t indicate
what kind of “effect” it has, we can safely assume that they
believe it encourages pupils’ active exploration of the environ-
ment. This empirical conclusion arrived at by the teachers in
the survey concurs with recent reports that small-scale actions
located at the level of the school yard or the local environment
through experientially confronting environmental problems in
their communities are most appropriate for learning and beha-
viour transformation (Chawla & Cushing Flanders, 2007: p.
438, 444), an idea which is referred to as “subject performed
task” or “enactment effect” or “action component” (Chawla &
Cushing Flanders, 2007: p. 441; Knapp & Benton, 2006: p.
Senses, Experiences, Feelings and Behavior
Any educational intervention to be effective should create
for children “learning opportunities that connect to their lives
and interests” (Basile & White, 2000: p. 202). In other words,
effective educational interventions should provide pupils with
the kind of education that appeals to and has a personal mean-
ing for them. It is most probable that we do not learn anything
unless we have a clear personal motive for doing so (Rogers,
1957: pp. 241-243), i.e. unless it is connected to our personal
experiences. In addition, research confirms that we recollect
information more effectively when it is intertwined with real-
life experiences and “perceived as a connection to [our] own
everyday life” (Ramsden, 1997, as cited in Knapp & Benton,
2006: p. 167) such as in the examples offered by two of the
teachers—“why we plant olive trees” or “why Pinios [the river
of their village] was polluted”.
Teachers seem to be aware of the importance of real-life ex-
periences as the following comments reveal:
“[The topic] about olive trees cropped up because we had to
plant something in our schoolyard, there was no shade there
[and] we wanted something to provide shade and we discov-
ered those trees (…) we wanted something related to the place
we live. (10)
“(…) you should experience it, see it, hear it, smell it (…) If
s/he doesnt see e.g. the Pinios river which is close to our
school get dirty how is s/he going to understand that this event
concerns him/her, that s/he shouldnt throw rubbish in it and
that s/he should do something to preserve it?” (1)
Having in mind to try to influence children towards re-cy-
cling, I generated an artificial lack of paper. One day, when
preschoolers came to the nursery school and through searching
they discovered that all paper had finished. That was a pro-
blem. (7)
In fact, the last quote indicates how important real-life ex-
periences are considered by the teachers since they even try to
“create” them by generating an “artificial lack of paper” and
call upon pupils to manage the “problem”.
Interviewees also seem to be aware of the preschoolers need
for exploration and discovery of the world around them. As
their comments indicate, real life experiences are important
because they enhance “sensory exploration and awareness”
(Carson, 1956, 1984) i.e. they provide children with the proper
conditions that will permit them to use and work with their
senses namely, sight, hearing, smell, touch (Brody, 2005: p.
611). This means to allow children to experience the world
rather than simply think about it and to expose them to the
widest possible variety of objects/situations in order for ex-
periences to emerge. The sensory awareness approach forms
the basis of what is called the experiential way of knowing
things, that is to create knowledge through the transformation
of the experience (Kolb, 1984: p. 38) or to expose children to
direct experiences in order to promote the fullest feeling and
thinking (Brody, 2005: p. 611). In fact, as far as thinking is
concerned, the literature suggests that through storing sensory
experiences (Krogh & Slentz, 2001: p. 203) the rational way of
thinking is constructed (Shea, 2008). In addition, as Hyun
(2005: pp. 199-200) states, direct experience in the preschool
aged child “conducts thought” (whereas in adults perception
“obeys thought”).
Interestingly, when they talk about “sensory awareness”, the
overwhelming majority of the interviewees focus on the deve-
lopment of the pupils’ emotional engagement and not to learn-
ing per se. They claim that pupils’ immersion into sensory ex-
ploration triggers “appreciation” and several positive feelings
that heighten children’s interest producing “unforgettable”
lived experiences.
Children experienced lots of things. I dont think that they
will ever forget that.” (4)
Pupils were enthusiastic.” (13)
We are interested to get their [sense of] touch, hearing,
smell to work. We train them to be careful by asking them to
close their eyes and lay down in the forest. In that way as well
as nurturing their hearing we also nurture their emotions…
We went to the forest, we smelt, we listened to the birds…
children started experiencing with their senses (…) I think the
lived experience is related to the emotion i.e. to be moved by
something is very important for keeping interest alive. (16)
Teachers also stressed the intensity of the children’s in-
volvement in “their experiences”: they experience things (e.g. a
visit to a water treatment plant) “as if they had a thousand
eyes.” This involvement, in turn, produces “personal [mental]
images”, “heated discussions” and “living what they are doing
to the fullest.”
We went to the water treatment plant and it was as if they
had a thousand eyes to see everything.” (3)
The day before yesterday children were conducting heated
discussions about that subject… (1)
They were living what they were doing to the fullest.” (15)
A consequence of all these experiences and the intense in-
volvement is the development of a pro-environmental influence
on children’s attitudes and behavior (e.g. “making remarks to
their parents”). As their interviews suggest, teachers seem to be
persuaded that somebody should be in direct physical contact
with an aspect of the environment (i.e. being able to “feel” it)
in order to be moved enough and to construct a personal rela-
tionship with it (Falk, 2005: p. 268). The positive feelings de-
veloped from this relationship (most importantly “enthusiasm”,
“joy”, “appreciation”, “respect”, “love”) are perceived as in-
tended intermediate outcomes which can function as the mov-
ing force behind the will to protect the environment. In other
words, physical contact with the “beauty of nature” is the in-
spiration leading them to construct a personal bonding with the
natural world (Wilson, 1992) and later on to develop “good
habits” towards conservation in general.
EE is to experience, to love whatever exists around me and
to appreciate it in order to be willing to protect it. (1)
“(…) to get to know nature, to live some experiences in na-
ture (…), that is the only way to acquire good habits towards
[solving] problems. (3)
The first thing I wanted for the children was to live lots of
experiences in nature, to feel its beauty, to play and enjoy.
Through all that I wanted to convey some messages that I con-
sider important and concern the environment [e.g.] respect for
nature… (2)
They even made remarks to their fathers and mothers… (8)
Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning
Interviews indicate that some early childhood teachers in this
study follow certain stages in their educational practice while
teaching E.E.: First, the observation of a specific environmental
aspect of the world around them through the use of the senses.
Second comes the conceptualization or else a deeper realization
about environmental processes. Third, we have the “will to act”
which is followed by action itself.
Some pupils (…) saw in the neighborhood (…) stray dogs
eating next to the rubbish bin (…) We acted out a role play
imagining we were those stray dogs [exploring whether] we
liked it or not, how we could protect stray dogs in our
neighborhood [and] with that stimulus, i.e. their protection, we
searched in several books, we found information (…) we de-
signed a poster about it and distributed it to the people.” (9)
After having a first-hand experience of the problems of their
neighborhood, [the children] decided to writea letter to the
mayor and ask him to construct more parks, pedestrian ways,
bicycle ways etc (…) all those things that children experienced
got into them (…) the result was that letter. (7)
However not everybody seems to follow all of the above
All their senses functioned, they touched, smelled, heard (…)
children blew on a glass and saw that their breath misted it
over. Later we covered a plant with a glass and we saw it again
misted over then they were led to the conclusion that [the plant]
breaths [too]. (4)
That continuum is strongly reminiscent of Kolb’s (1984: p.
42) cycle of experiential learning, where a concrete experience
(“breathing into a glass and then covering a plant with a glass,
seeing stray dogs or going around their neighborhood”) leads
learners into reflective observation (“vapor is produced on both
glasses—why??—what do stray dogs eat, how do they feel?”
“what are the problems of our neighborhood?”), then to ab-
stract conceptualization (“plants breath, dogs need protection or
there is necessity for ‘more parks and collection of refuse’”)
and lastly to action-active experimentation (e.g. producing
posters about stray dogs or writing a letter to the mayor).
Although teachers seem to echo Dewey’s (1938, 1998: p. 7)
conviction about the intimate relationship between experience
and learning they don’t generally seem to be aware about the
“continuity of experiences” criterion. There were only two
teachers who seemed to purposefully design “a series of ex-
periences” and contemplate that the genuinely educative ex-
periences are the ones which promote the desire of children to
further their knowledge (Dewey, 1938, 1998: p. 16). As one of
them put it,
We observed the bulbs, their size, their color, then each
child chose their own bulb, planted it in their own flowerpot
and wrote their name. We put all flowerpots by the window
except one (…) which was put into a cupboard. Each child
undertook to take care of his/her flowerpot. We discussed what
day well water them and I showed them how much water to
add. But some children added a lot of water and the result was
for some plants to go rotten. But even that [procedure] we left it
to evolve in order [for children] to see the repercussions of too
much watering. They also observed that all plants which were
not watered withered and only the sunlight could turn plants
green. Eventually a plant blossomed and we gathered around it
in order to see it and talk about it. We discussed the beginning
of it, how long it took for the stem to spring up, what happened
afterwards, how it blossomed. After a few days the flower faded.
Therefore that cycle was over. Based on that [experience] we
constructed a book about the history of the bulb. Children were
narrating and I was writing. Each child drew all the stages of
that evolution, we photocopied the history of the bulb and each
child constructed its own book giving it its own title. In that
way pupils understood the process of the evolution which is
related to maths and language since they wrote a text. It was
something that came out without my intervention. It began with
something that children experienced and it was an amazing
thing to see. (1)
As the above quotation shows, planting the bulb and water-
ing it were two activities which were used to prepare and pre-
dispose children to keenly expect the next experience. Those
experiences were related to the successive stages of growing
and blossoming of a plant, drawing the evolution of the plant
and constructing a story about it. That set of experiences
seemed to have “aroused [children’s] curiosity, strengthened
initiative and set up intense desires and purposes” (Dewey,
1938, 1998: p. 31) therefore satisfying the “continuity of ex-
periences” criterion.
The Reflection Parameter
The last quotation brings to the surface another issue: that of
the role of the reflection process in experiential learning. (Priest
& Gass, 1997: p. 17) claim that genuine experiential education
involves “learning by doing with reflection” which is the ne-
cessary intermediate stage between experience and learning,
safeguarding children from having to digest a “half baked”
practical work (Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985a: p. 9).As the
above literature indicates, there is a tendency, among teachers
using experiential learning, to conveniently condense all that
previous, rather complex, process in experiential education into
the “learning by doing” dictum. Most of the teachers of this
study seem to belong to this group of practitioners. They either
state it openly (equating knowledge with experience) or indi-
rectly through the lack of relevant comments.
Knowing is more or less the same as experiencing. (6)
There are however, a few of them (4) who seem to include
only elements of reflection into their educational practice. As
they say:
“(…) upon returning to the class we conduct activities in or-
der for pupils to consolidate and evaluate whatever they have
seen and learned. (7)
We collect [experiences] from walks, visits (…) if we dont
utilize them they are wasted (…). What we carry with us from
every expedition of ours is loaded with emotions, smells (…)
when bringing all of them to the class we use them in different
ways. For example, we do language activities, work on visual
arts…role playing, constructing stories. (2)
As we go back to school we discuss again about what we
saw, if it was like we have imagined it (…) by the river we
manufactured small boats from paper and put them into the
water. We observed that they floated. When we returned to
school we went on with the experiment and saw more things
which sink and others which float… (3)
After the visit we always discussed what impressed us, if
there was anything we hadn’t thought about [at the time]. We
made a review. (4)
Eventually a plant blossomed and we gathered around it in
order to see it and talk about it. We discussed the beginning of
it, how long it took for the stem to spring up, what happened
afterwards, how it blossomed. After a few days the flower faded.
Therefore that cycle was over. Based on that [experience] we
constructed a book about the history of the bulb. Children were
narrating and I was writing. Each child drew all the stages of
that evolution, we photocopied the history of the bulb and each
child constructed its own book giving it its own title. (1)
Only the last excerpt refers to reflection in a more explicit
way. Her words describe a quite extensive elaboration of the
experience of seeing, monitoring and taking into account the
plant’s development and clearly contain the “returning-to-ex-
perience” ingredient (i.e. recollecting previous events, replay-
ing the experience as it evolved at the time) along with associa-
tions, integration, validation and appropriation of the new
knowledge (e.g. the production of the book and the titling of it
by each child) (Boud et al., 1985b: pp. 32-33; Rogers, 1969: p.
3 as cited in Boud et al., 1985b: pp. 33-34).
As far as the rest of the interviewees are concerned, we can
safely suppose the following: Associations of new ideas to
previous knowledge take place during language sessions and
drawing. The “coming together” of different experiences (e.g.
what we observed during our walks, what we sensed and
smelled and what we felt) and the synthesis achieved through
the role play, constitute the integration of new knowledge into
new wholes. Testing the previous knowledge against the newly
acquired one is realized through the comparison between what
children found out and what they previously imagined they
would find out and constitutes the validation aspect of the re-
flection procedure. The less elaborated aspect of the process of
reflection is the appropriation of new knowledge.
Despite the fact that reflection is reported to contain the
elaboration of both the cognitive and emotional elements
(Boud et al., 1985b: pp. 28-34), one can notice that references
to feelings are missing from all but one of their reflection sto-
ries and no discussion is offered on how they were dealt with.
This practice seems to ignore the fact that several writers em-
phasize emotions as “pointers” showing whether the road to
learning is accessible or not (Miller & Boud, 1996: p. 10). In-
terestingly enough, the same teachers identify and value pupils’
emotions during outdoor activities.
Environmental Educ at ion as Civi c Education
Experiential education methods are perceived by early child-
hood teachers in this study as the “only ones” that can be effec-
tively used in the nursery school because they match the age of
the children and are additionally attributed the capability to
make children aware of their civil identity and render them
eager to proceed to individual or collective action. In other
words, the age of the children not only does not seem to be an
obstacle to the teachers treating preschoolers as the “active
citizens” of the future but is actually perceived as “the most
appropriate” both for children’s learning and behavior forma-
tion. It is during this age that personal characteristics are incul-
cated “laying the foundations” of their future social skills.
When comparing “traditional education” and its “old ap-
proaches” to EE the superiority of EE is clearly demonstrated.
That superiority is attributed to the experiential methodology
which is ultimately credited with the development of “citizens
capable of individual and collective action.” Teachers argue
that the specific kind of knowledge and behaviour characteris-
tics which are developed during the experiential approach make
children capable of confronting the political power and claim-
ing their rights. This emergence of embryonic environmental
consciousness accompanied by commensurate children’s acts
(such as visiting the mayor—which might well have been their
first contact with the political power) is of particular impor-
tance, and upgrades EE into a kind of “citizenship education.”
Although children are young I believe that they can now
develop the right behavior… we now lay the foundations and
they develop their character.” (3)
EE is an educational process (…) without the old didactic
methods (…) where the pupils are given the opportunity to act,
to experience, to analyze, to explore and to construct know-
ledge (…) [it] can shape citizens capable of (…) individual and
collective action (…). After having a first hand experience of
the problems of their neighborhood, [the children] decided to
write a letter to the mayor and ask him to construct more
parks, pedestrian ways, bicycle ways etc (…) all those things
that children experienced influenced them (…) the result was
that letter. (7)
When they first came across the problem of rubbish in the
parks they thought hard. In the beginning they said lets col-
lect it ourselves’. [Later on they thought] how many times can
we collect it though?’ ‘Can we solve that problem in that way?’
They themselves then, proposed to go to the mayor. (4)
“(…) It was something that they were doing on their own ini-
tiative (…) they showed their work to the people, to the
neighbors, to the parents, to the other children. I think the
great benefit for children was empowerment. (9)
Early childhood teachers’ approach agrees with statements
by early childhood education research workers stressing the
necessity of constructing EE attitudes and values as early as
possible in order for the “maximum impact” to be achieved
(Wilson, 1994: p. 5). Participants also seem to concur with
modern educational research findings suggesting that children
of that age are more than able to think critically, to make deci-
sions about problems (Brauss, 1999, as cited in Basile & White,
2002; Driskell, 2000; Freeman, Henderson, & Kettle, 1999;
Roe, 2007) and actively participate in the social aspect of every-
day life (Corsaro, 2005: p. 19). Those realizations are obvi-
ously of paramount importance as far as the “civic education”
of preschoolers is concerned.
In addition, participants in this research claim that “lived ex-
periences” promote empowerment by providing opportunities
for preschoolers to launch environmental action “they decided
themselves”. Therefore pupils felt that their strength increased
(“difficult questions” might be an indication of it) and deve-
loped confidence in their own capacities to write a “letter to the
mayor” claiming their rights to a better quality of life. Those
experiences, along with reflective reasoning on their every day
life, produced the “we-want-more-parks” request, in fact an
attempt to redistribute/reallocate power relations in their area
(Townsend, 1998: p. 90). That pursuit of power redistribution
results from and feeds back into their “personal investment”
parameter, recalling the “ownership variable” (Hungerford &
Volk, 1990) or the appropriation element for public issues
(Chawla & Cushing Flanders, 2007: p. 444). That experiential
way of dealing with local environmental issues with their
children makes the teachers of the sample part of a distinct
stream of thought into EE, arguing that social transformation
should be, among other things, the result of a self reflective,
participatory and empowering educational model (Sterling,
2001), incorporating even very young children into planning
and designing their preferred environments (Barratt Hacking,
Barratt, & Scott, 2007; Driskell, 2002; Roe, 2007).
The perceptions/beliefs of nursery school teachers who are
active into the EE field, seem to include the following charac-
1) The experiential element is considered to be inextricably
connected to the teaching of EE, preferred over other ways of
teaching EE (e.g. the infusion model) and focused upon during
their self-reported educational praxis to the degree that some-
times they seem to put more emphasis on the methodological
(experiential) than the content aspect of EE. Teachers were able
to identify the potential and possibilities for implementing ex-
periential education strategies in environmental education and
use both in order to make their teaching more effective. Other
research workers show a similar preference of Greek elemen-
tary school teachers to support first-hand experiences as the
best way to deliver environmental education (Chatzifotiou,
2005: p. 519). There is evidence that if those two approaches
are applied—particularly in combination with outdoor educa-
tion in such a way as to support each other, then results with
children are strong and lasting (Adkins and Simmons, 2003)
one of them being increased concern for the environment
(McKenzie, 2003: p.18).
2) The main conceptual/structural axis of “their” kind of ex-
periential education are the non-intermediated, connected to
personal experiences, emotionally engaged and (to a lesser
extent) reflected upon way of constructing knowledge. The
above axis along with the importance preschool teachers attri-
bute to some other functional ingredients, such as the promo-
tion of observation skills, the utilization of the “lived experi-
ence”, the work with, exploration and exploitation of all the
senses (procedure which connects learning to personal experi-
ence), comprise their conceptual framework of experiential
education. Their descriptions of the different stages of that kind
of learning look similar to Kolb’s cycle describing the produc-
tion of experiential knowledge. As far as concerns their ability
to choose the quality of educative experiences, they satisfy the
first of Dewey’s (1938, 1998: p. 16) criteria by managing to
engage children (and consequently to produce positive feelings
and personal involvement) but there is only minor evidence
about satisfying the “continuity of experiences” criterion. Only
one of the 16 teachers of the sample could show a more ba-
lanced reflection model. In addition, none of them referred to
any kind of elaboration of feelings (except during outdoor ac-
tivities) despite emotional competency being really important
for future learning (Beard & Wilson, 2006: p. 192; Heron, 1982,
as cited in Boud et al., 1985b; Pearson & Smith, 1985: pp.
3) In respect to the three ingredients of EE, namely the
“about”, “in” and “for” the environment, most of the teachers
work intensively in the “in” aspect, agreeing with Carson’s
(1956, 1984: p. 45) dictum: “I sincerely believe that for the
child (…) it is not half so important to know as to feel.” That
aspect strongly connects to the experiential parameters of EE,
and is also credited by teachers with developing environmen-
tally friendly emotions and attitudes. It is their conviction that
the “for” the environment aspect springs out of the previous
emphasis on the “in” element, producing for preschoolers pro-
environmental values and behavior (Bogeholz, 2006; Chawla,
1998; Holtz, 1994; Tanner, 1982). In that way, teachers seem to
jump from feeling and loving the environment “by directly
contacting with it” (Van Matre, 1972: pp. 9-11) and using it as
a “context for (…) interactive activities” (Robottom & Hart,
1993: p. 22) straight into behavior transformation as their “po-
litical” interventions show. They do not refer to the “learning”
aspect though. What data also suggest is that between the three
“paradigms”, as described by Robottom and Hart (1993), the
teachers of the sample work mainly into the interpretative
“Paradigm” as they try to create close relationships between
children and their environment so they develop “emotions”
towards it. They work less in the socially critical “Paradigm”
(planning and acting towards solving environmental problems
with their pupils) and the positivist “Paradigm”: that is, they
don’t see children as passive recipients of knowledge “about
the environment”. The fact that the teachers of this study, visit
less frequently the positivist “Paradigm” is an interesting find-
ing within the Greek educational context which is considered
one that encourages mainly passive learning and factual
knowledge (Giavrimis and Papanis, 2009).
4) The present work provides evidence that the interplay be-
tween EE and experiential education in the form of engaging
children with public issues at a local level might be rather fer-
tile educational ground in helping to transform them into future
These future citizens will be knowledgeable of how the po-
litical system functions, aware of their civil duties and practice
active citizenship as researchers in the field of political sociali-
zation have concluded (see a review in Chawla & Cushing
Flanders, 2007: p. 444). This finding might be of critical im-
portance in the light of the following parameters: first the evo-
lution of EE towards education for sustainable development,
second the inadequate provision for children’s voices to be
heard (Barratt Hacking et al., 2007) and third, young children’s
willingness to believe that if they send a message they would
be listened to (Roe, 2007: p. 468, 476) and the effects of their
contributions become visible. Civil education can then “lend”
experiential education a more political profile and neutralize
the argument that the latter ignores the societal element and
promotes the idea that the power to change the environment
resides absolutely with individuals (Gregory, 2002: pp.
105-106). That point begs our attention because institutions like
government and industry are not only the major atmosphere
and water polluters, solid waste producers and nonrenewable
resources consumers but they also resist attempts towards
changing their unsustainable function. Consequently, in order
for a sustainable society to be built, preparing children for po-
litical action might be necessary.
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