Integrating Climate Change in Education and Activities at the Primary Level
Climate change is the greatest challenge of our times. It is a multi- and interdisciplinary problem closely linked to the natural and social sciences, morals and technology. Understanding and comprehending this complex topic can be difficult for a teacher. Furthermore, there are many challenging questions: How should I approach the topic? How much should I explain? How can I create hope instead of anxiety?
Teacher’s Climate Guide helps teachers fill in the knowledge gaps. However, its main target audience is subject teachers and young people instead of children. Teachers familiar with the topic might as well trust their expertise and instincts when talking about climate change in class. Nevertheless, here are some general tips on how to teach children about the changing climate.
1. Identify your Target Audience
Identifying the target audience is the basic rule of communication. When addressing children, it is crucial to plan the activities according to the age group and receptiveness. For example, teaching through play or drama works well at the primary level, however, it is important to make the message more precise the older the students are.
With the youngest students, it is not necessary to use words like “climate change” or “greenhouse gases”. The best way to encourage their connection with nature is to spend time outside (for example, in the school garden or local park), marvel at the natural wonders and do daily environmental good deeds, be they related to climate change or not. Additionally, you might want to observe the weather, discuss differences between weather and climate, read and listen to the stories about the topic or interview grandparents about their winter memories.
From the third grade onwards more conceptual elements can be added, but it is still crucial to encourage children to learn by doing. For instance, you can engage students through activities related to food or composting, which provide a starting point for learning about the carbon cycle. In the fifth and sixth grade, topics of climate change can be linked to learning about energy production.
2. Stay Positive
Because of its large scale and complexity, climate change tends to cause anxiety also in adults. Children and young people are good at sensing adults’ state of mind and draw their own conclusions. While scientific knowledge on climate change and its impacts is getting more and more accurate and in the face of the media presenting the topic in a threatening light, teachers should stay positive and keep hope alive.
Climate change can be slowed down significantly enough that harmful impacts on humans and the environment are not insurmountable. Although future generations have to cope with climate change, the consequences don’t have to be severe if we take prompt action. A growing number of people are constantly joining the fight against global warming. Remember not only to talk about the problems but also about solutions and mitigation.
3. Teach Environmental Issues Across Subjects
Today environmental issues and their consequences and solutions are hot topics and therefore they need to be discussed in class more than just once or twice a year in biology class. For example, music class can provide an opportunity to review environmental songs or a cycling trip can be combined with learning about the environmental impacts of transportation. In mother tongue and literature classes students can read and write stories about the environment and launch citizen initiatives as an interdisciplinary learning project with visual arts.
4. Listen to Your Students
Listening and asking questions with curiosity is the best way to find out how much children know about climate change and if their ideas are accurate. The level of knowledge may vary radically from child to child. Children who have discussed the topic with their parents may know a lot about it, whereas other children may have barely heard about it at all.
Listening helps recognize how children feel about climate change. Take emotions seriously, whatever they may be, and encourage children to process them. Creative methods in music, drama, and the visual arts to facilitate processing emotions Creative physical activities can be useful ways to vent fear, anxiety and insecurity.
5. Encourage Learning through Exploring
Learning through exploring is a good way to encourage students to accumulate knowledge of any given subject. The internet is full of information – and also disinformation – about climate change. For this reason, teachers need to choose appropriate material to prevent misunderstandings and factual distortion. After exploring climate issues together, check the mood in the classroom. Try to stay positive and encouraging.
6. Avoid Spreading False Information
Climate change is partly linked to other environmental problems, but that doesn’t mean that all the environmental issues are connected. To solve the problem, we need get to the bottom of it and find the best solutions. At the primary level, it is not necessary to introduce the causal relationships between social and environmental problems. However, it is crucial to have an understanding of the real facts in order to avoid spreading false ideas.
One of the most common misunderstandings is that the ozone hole caused climate change. Climate change and the ozone hole are related in other ways, but their relationship is so complex and fairly meaningless that it is better to think there is no connection at all. Ozone depletion is an example of a big environmental problem that is being solved through international cooperation and action.
Another common misunderstanding concerns recycling. Although the waste issue is a global problem and more efficient recycling is one method to tackle it, it doesn’t play an important part in climate change. Normally packaging contributes only a few percentage points of the products’ carbon footprint. Packaging protects goods from damage during transport. Without it there would be more waste, so in that sense packaging can be good for the environment.
7. Tell the Truth
We have already shortly discussed how climate change education should be tailored according to the age of the target audience. Another useful guideline is to handle the situation on a case-by-case basis. If a child asks directly about climate change, tell the truth. Climate change is a serious threat, but it can be tackled and a lot of effort is already invested in mitigation and adaptation.
8. Act Together with Children
Although children are not responsible for solving climate change, they can still play a role in tackling it. Climate action for primary school children can be linked to classroom activities and daily life. However, you might also want to teach them basic skills of active citizenship by writing petitions and/or attending or perhaps organizing a demonstration together. Awareness campaigns initiated and developed by children usually attract media attention. Don’t hesitate to contact media if you are planning a campaign, since media visibility boosts efficiency and provides opportunities to practice writing skills (blog, press releases etc.)
9. Give some Thought on the Impacts of Your Actions
After taking action, it is useful to reflect upon the impacts it has had on your school or municipality. This can also be done at a general level by examining how active citizens have made a difference in your local region. It is important that children learn about causality. Change requires action and action can change the world.