Research Summary

Green inclusion: Biophilia as a necessity

Environmental education promotes the inclusion of children with special needs and addresses their biophilic needs

British Journal of Special Education

This essay argues for using environmental education as a vehicle for promoting the inclusion of children with special needs. It uses the transformation of a school yard into a school garden as an example of how related outdoor experiences can foster the development of self-esteem, peer-to-peer socialization, positive teacher-student relationships, and a positive attitude towards school. While some scholars have recommended the integration of environmental education and special education, little research has addressed how this might be done or what the outcomes might be.

The biophilia hypothesis offers some support for looking to environmental education as a pathway to the inclusion of children with special needs. The concept of biophilia is based on the understanding that people need contact with the natural environment in the same way they need contact with other people as a necessity for their development. This need applies to everyone, including children with special educational needs. Offering outdoor environmental education experiences is one way to address this need. In addition to helping students learn about the natural world, outdoor education activities can also provide a stimulating learning environment and foster positive social relationships. Research studies – in support of this assertion -- demonstrate the effectiveness of outdoor education in promoting not only cognitive development and emotional growth but also social integration.

Some schools have developed accessible playgrounds to give all students the opportunity for free play and choices for exploration and learning. School gardens are also being developed as a resource for a wide range of users. While the school garden has been recognized as a valuable education tool by a number of educational leaders, its use has varied in response to differing educational, political, and economic circumstances. Today, the rationale for school gardens tends to focus on the need for developing an understanding and appreciation of the natural environment, as well as meeting the biophilic needs of the students. Environmental education is presented in this essay has having the potential to promote inclusion by giving all who engage in it an opportunity to address environmental issues on a large or small scale. It’s also presented as a form of education that has much to offer all students.

Stavrianos, A. (2016). Green inclusion: Biophilia as a necessity. British Journal of Special Education, 43(4), 416-429. doi: