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Introducing Kids to Climate Change

Jennifer L. Betts
Kids looking at globe in classroom

Climate change can be a difficult concept for kids to understand. Not only is it controversial, but the concept itself is difficult to explain. Making it understandable is all about using language that they can understand. But getting hands-on with climate change will really push their thinking.

What Is Climate Change?

The world is getting hotter. NASA stated that the surface of the world has increased by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1950s. This increase in temperature comes from several factors like natural climate changes and the increase of greenhouse gases. like carbon dioxide. You know that stuff you breathe out. Greenhouse gases trap the heat from the sun on the Earth. This is kind of like when you get into a sleeping bag. The heat that your body creates stays in the bag keeping you warm. So, the Earth is getting warmer from that blanket, which is called the greenhouse effect.

What Causes Climate Change?

NASA points out that humans are causing climate change. They're causing climate change by burning fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas. These are used to heat our homes, run our cars and create electricity. When humans burn the fossil fuels, they create the greenhouse gases. The more gases in the air, the thicker our blanket. Thicker blankets mean more warmth.

Teaching Climate Change

Giving kids a basic understanding of climate change won't be enough. It's right up there with thinking about the global world. Since it is hard for kids to see farther than their own communities, using hands-on activities can really push this concept.

Creating Glaciers

Glaciers are important to understanding climate change. Scientists look at glaciers to understand the climate change and future changes. To complete this activity, kids from 5-7 grade will need:

  • Computers
  • Paper mache
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Poster board
  • Markers

Using the computer, kids should pick and research a glacier like Perito Moreno Glacier or Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Using their research, they should use the paper mache and paint to create a replica of their glacier. With the poster board and markers, they can note how their glacier has changed from the climate getting warmer. Have a glacier walk through once the activity is complete.

Tracking the Weather

How the climate has changed is traced through the weather. Kids from 3-5 grade can track this to by looking at weather over the decades. For this activity, kids will need:

  • Computers or printouts of weather patterns in their community
  • Paper
  • Markers

Using the printouts, have student pairs create a graph of how the weather has increased in their community. After creating their graph, kids can decorate their graph. Hang the graphs around the room.

Ocean's Rising Activity

According to the National Ocean Service, the oceans are rising. Show students from K-2nd grade the rising oceans through a hands-on activity. Materials you need include:

  • Container with a lid
  • Tool to measure water (measuring cup or yard stick)
  • Water
  • Ice cubes

For this activity, you'll add water to a container. Kids should measure the water. After taking measurements, have your kids add the ice cubes, glaciers, to the water and put the lid on the container. They will then put the container in a sunny windowsill or near a heat source. After the ice melts, they should take a measurement of the water again. They will see that the water is higher. You can then explain that the water from the ice melting made the level rise. You can then relate this to the oceans.

Who Is Climate Change Affecting?

For this activity, have kids look at who climate change is affecting. For this activity, kids from 3rd-7th grade will need:

  • Research materials (books, magazines, internet access)
  • Crafting materials
  • Poster board

For this activity, group kids or have them work alone to research something that climate change is affecting. They might look at the polar bears, coral reef, humans, etc. After completing their research, they will use the crafting materials to create their subject. They will then use the poster board to list ways that it is being affected and how they can help. For example, kids might point out how polar bears are losing their habitat and how they can help climate change by driving less or shutting off the water when they brush their teeth. They should focus on little changes and big changes they can make.

Polar bear sitting on sea ice

Tips for Teaching Climate Change

Climate change is a controversial subject that may be hard to approach. You can't be all gloom, doom, and despair, but you can't avoid the subject either. When teaching this controversial subject, you need to find a happy medium. To not scare your kids, try a few of these tips.

  • Keep the lesson hopeful by showing how people are changing to reduce greenhouse gases, along with how they have been reduced. Show them success stories of people that have improved climate change factors.
  • Discuss things that kids can do to improve greenhouse gases, like ride bikes.
  • Avoid asserting your opinions.
  • Avoid making statements on either side of the climate change debate.
  • Present the facts while keeping the conversation hopeful.
  • Since this can be an overwhelming subject with lots of science, start small and build upon those smaller ideas so they can understand the big picture.
  • If in doubt, use pictures to try to help explain the concepts.

Understanding the Earth

Understanding the earth and how it's changing is important. Teaching about climate change is important to this discussion. While it can be a daunting task surrounded in controversy, activities not only teach about climate change but foster problem-solving skills.

Introducing Kids to Climate Change