Future environmental challenges facing the world will become increasingly complex. Young children need to be equipped for tomorrow's challenges, and we must adequately prepare our children for the environmental future they will inherit. Part of this environmental preparation needs to focus on Science, Technology, Arts, Engineering, and Math (STEAM) disciplines to create scientific and environmentally literate citizens that helps them become the educated thought leaders of tomorrow. North Grafton Elementary School (NGES) is an evolving and responsive community that provides an interactive learning environment to ensure academic excellence, social responsibility, and fosters personal integrity and the critical thinking necessary for global citizenship. To foster K-1 environmental literacy NGES is implementing a school improvement plan that addresses the need for young children to develop as responsible citizens of our planet. The test of environmental literacy is the capacity of an individual to act successfully in daily life on a broad understanding of how people and societies relate to each other and to natural systems, and how they might do so sustainably. Environmental literacy requires sufficient awareness, knowledge, skills, and attitudes in order to incorporate appropriate environmental considerations into daily lifestyle decisions.
Preliminary results show that K-1 students at NGES engaged in environmental literacy activities are beginning to understand how people and natural systems relate to each other. Focusing on play-based exploration of the natural world with hands-on activities is critical during early childhood scientific literacy development and beyond. Early childhood students benefit from creative play situations and themed learning opportunities to engage in activities that forge connections between people and natural systems. Students at NGES have exhibited increased ecological knowledge through activities that focus on awareness and are designed to develop a basis of understanding for the characteristics of environments and how they function. Preliminary results show increased understanding of habitats, biodiversity, and adaptations, with future curricula aimed at building on awareness and moving the students toward understanding. Future activities will aim to further develop ecological knowledge in areas of populations, ecosystems, and niches. The NGES school improvement plan has provided the framework for increasing environmental literacy through hands-on activities and continued assessment of environmental competencies, knowledge, and student behavior.