When we combine artistic mediums with environmental science topics, we can increase our knowledge about the natural world, and how we act as stewards of the ecosystems around us. WHY art is so beneficial to increasing our understanding, regardless of subject or topic?

The Role of Art in Learning Styles

Art, or something made via creative process, engages various learning styles and intelligences. There are 4 primary learning styles; Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing (or working with words), and Kinesthetic (or “doing”). Someone who is a visual learner likes to utilize graphs, pictures, and their sense of sight. Auditory learners like to listen to instructions or stories in order to understand concepts. This can be through YouTube, listening to a lecture a podcast.

Learners who love words like to read instructions, or write things down to remember them. Finally, Kinesthetic learners would much rather attempt to learn as they go by taking action. A great example of the learning styles can be found in an example about IKEA furniture: A visual learner flips to the section of the instruction manual to follow diagrams. The auditory learner will go to the website and listen to the video tutorial as the build the piece. The reading/written learner will read each step by step instruction as they go. The kinesthetic learner will throw the rule book out and just build the piece by trial-and-error, learning about the various parts and tools by giving them a try. That being said, people usually don’t learn through just one style.

art and nature enhance education

Many are multi-modal. Roughly 45% of females  and 87% of males tend to learn through a variety of styles. I am a VK learner, or a Visual and Kinesthetic learner. Roughly 84% of young adults (this study examined undergraduate level students) have some amount of Kinesthetic learning desire. Why does this matter? The kinesthetic learner wants to create. Utilizing art while learning can enforce concepts. If the learner creates something as they are taught about environmental science, those concepts stick better! Looking at the fact that 84% of young adults enjoy learning through these action-based methods can indicate how important art and creativity can be to learning. In the education world, there is also something else to consider about how people learn best, aside from the VARK styles.

The Role of Art in Multiple Intelligences Theory

These intelligences dictate not just in what style do people learn best, how to people are taught best. These can be taught through any of the VARK styles. There are 8 primary intelligences: Musical, Naturalistic, Mathematical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Linguistic, Spatial, and Body. For example, my strengths are naturalistic, spatial, and body intelligences. I not only like to learn about the natural world, but I like to have information presented to me in a way that relates to the natural world (naturalistic intelligence), my visual surroundings (spatial intelligence), and gets me moving (body or kinesthetic – there’s that word again!, intelligence). Those who focus on musical intelligences though might like to create little songs to help them remember concepts. Interpersonal learners might want to engage in deep discussion with others to learn more about the concept.

Why do the Multiple Intelligences matter? Studies document the percentage of people that fall into the various intelligence categories. Roughly 40% of people in the study focus on Bodily or Kinesthetic learning and roughly 45% of people focus on interpersonal intelligences. 39% focus on musical intelligence. This shows that people really like movement, taking action, working and learning from others, and learning through melodies! This supports our desire to create as a form of learning. Art is movement-based. Dancing, singing, painting, drawing, or other artistic mediums help us learn, and communicating our expressions with others is a huge component of why artists might create!

How do we combine art with environmental science? The why is easy – combining art with ANY field of study can increase that person’s understanding of the topic! The HOW is more of a variable. Different artists or scientists use art in different ways. As many artistic mediums as there are out there, is what limits how the combination can occur.

Blending Art and Environmental Education

As an environmental educator, blending these two ideas is integral to getting my audience to learn about topics. From building terrariums to help participants learn and understand the various layers and interconnections of our ecosystems at large, to engaging with botanical illustration in order to observe and study plant morphology, or making foraged wild-edible cocktails to connect workshop participants with the role that these edible plants play in feeding wildlife, conserving soil, or how invasive species impact flora & fauna in an ecosystem – it’s all important! These workshop participants can go away from the workshop with a deeper level of understanding about the environmental concepts, as well as feel empowered by the fact that they made something to bring home and have the skills to repeat the project in different or similar ways on their own.

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