Educating Children About Climate Change
“If man chooses Oblivion, he can go right on leaving his fate to his political leaders. If he chooses Utopia, he must initiate an enormous education program… immediately, if not sooner.” – R. Buckminster Fuller
Older children – tweens and teenagers – are well aware of the climate crisis and the work being done by activists like Greta Thunberg. This post is for people who have a younger child in their lives.
Most of the education early in life happens pre-school or outside of school. This means it is parents, grandparents and older siblings who will teach young children. These children will live in a world vastly different from the one we grew up in. How do we prepare them for it?
Our behavior speaks volumes to our children about our values. Take environment-friendly actions such as making good food choices, conserving energy in your home and travel options, and minimizing waste. Show your children that you care about the planet which supports all life.
Climate change is frightening. Yet, we need to discuss it with our children in a way that won’t stress them, and will leave them feeling inspired to make positive changes. As the child is trying to make sense of the world, we don’t want to confuse or overwhelm him/her. The information we pass on must be factual. We need to carefully build their knowledge concerning the natural world and our climate emergency.
For young children, rather than talking about climate change directly, you can focus on helping your child to love and appreciate nature. Have conversations about caring for the environment – why and how to conserve water, where energy comes from, why we shouldn’t litter, the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling. Keep your conversations simple and positive.
We can also read age-appropriate books which deal with these issues. Many libraries have wonderful titles. Read about the natural world… animal habitats, microbes, the water cycle, fungi, coral reefs, reptiles, etc. The natural world offers an endless list of topics that are fascinating to children. If your library does not stock appropriate titles, petition them to purchase those books. The library habit is a good one to instill in your child early. By borrowing books, we share them with many other people, reducing the number of books that must be produced and shipped (and the emissions resulting from those activities).
Whether in a garden or on a sunny windowsill, grow vegetables, herbs, or flowers from seeds. This experience will instill in your child the wonder of nature, and at the same time will teach them that food does not come wrapped in plastic from the supermarket. Growing plants are a practical demonstration of photosynthesis and the carbon cycle. Use simple words to describe the process. It will form the foundation for a more sophisticated understanding of climate science when they grow older. Get outside and explore the different environments – forests, beaches, prairies, etc. Discuss how each supports a diversity of plant and animal life.
“Do not tell the child about the problems with the environment, global warming, etc. Giving this information too early can cause confusion and stress, worry and even avoidance of anything to do with the earth. Instead, share the wonder and the beauty of the earth. This is true of the studies of plants and animals, and of people of the world. Children grow up to care about, be interested in, and care for, the things they have learned to love.” Susan Stephenson, Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+.
Climate change and related topics are in the zeitgeist now. Your child is bound to hear about it and will have questions. Answer them in an age-appropriate way, focusing on practical solutions and what we can do to help our environment. Children may pick up on your own worries and fears, so be mindful of the language you use. Always keep things positive and practical.
As children get older, you might have discussions around the climate activism youth movement and why this is important, the science around climate change, and actions which you can do together as a family such as writing to political representatives and attending family friendly marches.
And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we must educate ourselves. Make sure that you understand what is happening… the historical and economic reasons for it. So when you have a conversation with your children, what they hear and understand reflects reality. For a view into what a futurist sees as our viable way forward, see Moving to a Finite Earth Economy.