A Field Guide on how and when to talk about climate change to young children

A recent study suggests that people who feel a personal responsibility for future generations are significantly more likely to worry about climate change. For instance, being a parent is a very strong trigger for shifting behavior towards climate action. But when it comes to talking about climate change to children, the research shows there’s a big gap between what parents think should happen — and what’s actually happening. A poll from NPR in 2019 showed that nearly 85% of parents think that children should be learning about climate change. But only about half of those parents say they talk to their own kids about it. How is this so? The main problem is that parents don’t know how to talk about climate change to children, and they don’t know at what age they should start doing it.

The thing is, children are likely to be hearing about climate change already, through media, at school, etc. And by not talking about it at home, children can start to feel eco-anxious. According to a poll made by Force of Nature, 70% of young children feel hopeless in the face of the climate crisis. In order to avoid eco-anxiety, you have to give children the possibility to understand what is happening.

But talking about climate change to children can be tricky, « I don’t want to worry them » « it’s too complicated » « it’s not my job, the science teacher should do it ». So in the end, the subject is left aside. Based on the meetings we’ve conducted, here are a few field guidelines on how and when to talk about climate change to young children, no matter if you’re a parent or a teacher.

Rule n°1: you’ve got to have fun.

Game-based learning is a fantastic way to engage with young children. It can help them not just learn “knowledge”, but develop skills that are useful in all areas of life, such as abstract thinking, problem-solving and spatial awareness. Game-based learning is a multi-sensory approach to learning, and helps children absorb knowledge through visuals, soundtracks and using their fingers to manipulate objects or screens and buttons.

Learning about climate change can be overwhelming and gloomy. The best way to engage children on this subject is to make it fun and achievable.

The Earth Cubs world is fun, colorful, vibrant, funny and ultimately positive. We are dealing with some big and scary issues, and doing so in a positive way. Nothing that we produce is doom and gloom, nothing is a disaster, because it is the wrong way to teach kids. You have to say look how amazing and awesome stuff is, let’s find out how to make it even better. Toby Hunt, Earth Cubs

👉🏼 To go deeper on game-based learning, check the following interviews: Earth Cubs / Kide Science / Design a thon / Ecodam

Rule n°2: make children fall in love with our planet, you only want to protect what you love.

You can’t protect what you don’t know about. D. Attenborough

Childhood is a sacred time where you create positive relationship with the world and people. Climate education for young people is about giving them nature, letting them fall in love with the world.

For children who are lucky enough to be able to connect directly with nature, physical interactions are essential. But for the children who can’t, technology can be a great tool to understand and love the amazing ecosystems and cultures of the world, both locally and globally. We met with many actors who leverage technology to foster wonder.

🎙 For instance, Lyfta is a digital platform where teachers and students can easily access immersive and interactive 360 degree story worlds. Through the use of technology, they want to be able to give to children as many experiences as possible to feel connected to many different things, including nature.

🎙 Toby Hunt created Earth Cubs, an EdTech platform inspiring kids to learn and love the world. Through technology and the Earth Cubs app, children can fall in love with nature because that is what the content of Earth Cubs is about (Coral Reef stories, Rainforest stories, etc.)

👉🏼 Learn more : Lyfta / Earth Cubs / Kide Science / Planet Academy

Rule n°3: talk about science and how our planet works

Children are naturally curious and ask questions all the time, they want to know how the world works. Research revealed that over 50% of children’s questions are related to phenomenon that can be explained with natural science. Children have inner curiosity towards the topics related on how the world functions, so if you don’t teach those subjects then you neglect over half of children’s topics of interests.

If we understand how the world works on a very basic level, then we will be more likely to respect the processes that are going on and how delicate those are. Jenni Vartiainen, Kide Science

According to Inez Harker-Schuch, a researcher with a PhD in climate literacy, when you talk about science to children and explain how the world functions, it is important not to start with the ‘change’, but first to explore how the system works from the start, meaning without human intervention or activity. It is the only way to make children respect and love the earth and all the natural processes that are making our planet what it is. In this way, when we get to the ‘change’ part later, children will see clearly how human activities is changing our environment, and what we need to mitigate or adapt to take control of that change.

👉🏼 Learn more : Kide Science / Planet Academy

Rule n°4: address climate science, but don’t overlook climate feelings

As we said earlier, children already know about climate change because of the media, internet, etc. So in order to avoid eco-anxiety, you have to give children the possibility to understand what is happening (rule number 3), but you also have to give room for climate emotions.

A climate anxiety study revealed that out of 10 000 children across 10 countries, half think humanity is doomed. And for children who live in vulnerable places, the number is much higher.

The problem is that children have a vivid imagination and what they can create in their heads can be even worse than the reality so you have to talk about climate change early and check how they’re feeling and thinking about it. Frida Berry Eklund, Our Kids’ Climate

👉🏼 Learn more : Our Kids’ Climate

Rule n°5: give children hope and help them take action

The best way to avoid eco-anxiety is to take action. Indeed, children can handle the truth about climate change, but what they can’t handle is adults not acting. But we don’t want to put to much pressure on children’s shoulder. Indeed, children don’t always have the ability to make their own decisions, for instance they don’t get to decide their diet, it mainly depends on their parents, on the school cafeteria, etc.

For Frida Berry Eklund, one of the solutions to address this challenge is to focus on the collective things that we can do in order to put away the pressure on children. For instance, if we are parents what can we do as a family? If we are a teacher, what we can do as a class? As a school?

We have to create spaces for young people to take action in local communities and to become part of a group. It is really difficult to keep up engagement when you feel you’re alone.

Getting involved helps me feel like I’m actually doing something, I’m not like sitting around waiting for our planet to die. I want to make a difference. The way we’re living is not sustainable for the future, and I want my children to have a future, and their kids too. Sara Bauman, a young climate activist

Another solution is to encourage children to become actors.

🎙 For instance, Design-a-thon helps children to create actual prototypes of their climate change solutions so children have to construct something instead of just thinking about it. It forces them to think about how their idea would work.

🎙 With Kide Science, a play-based STEAM education platform for teachers, children really have to play the role of scientists (they need to dress like one, they use accessories, etc.). It is a play-based learning method where children are actors.

👉🏼 Learn more : Our Kids’ Climate / Kide Science / Design a thon / Ecodam

We are the future leaders, if we’re not educated about climate change then our world is screwed. Sara Bauman

Children and young people represent 30% of the world’s population. Not only do they represent the largest group of people currently affected by climate change, but they are also more vulnerable than adults to its harmful effects. Children and young people embody the generation who will need to deal with the future impacts of climate change. It is our responsibility to give them the tools to tackle the climate change crisis, and this is only possible through education. Climate education must start at a very young age as it is a long process, combining knowledge, values, and action.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Nelson Mandela

NB: This article has been written based on different meetings we conducted during the Ikigaï Project, but reflect our own opinion on the subject.

Thank you to all our wonderful interviewees 💛

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