Age appropriate discussions, the best resources, and more
It feels like there's an endless list of things that parents need to do... all the daily stuff like meals and getting ready for school, and then there's the bigger stuff like making sure that your kids are nice to others and can cope with negative feelings. Have you ever wondered if talking to your kids about climate change is another thing we need to add to the list? As a parent, only you can make the decision about when you think it's appropriate to introduce the topic to your kids, but once you've made that decision, how do you talk about it? Where do you even begin, and what's age appropriate? Stick with us for a guide on how to talk to your kids about climate change and a list of the best resources for each age group.
Why Talk about Climate Change
According to the latest IPCC climate change report (1), the effects of climate change are already here. Even if we make drastic changes to our carbon emissions now, climate change will have negative impacts over the next several decades. Many families might already be feeling the impacts of climate change (fire season, hurricane season, and all the rest), and talking about climate change will help kids process what they are already experiencing. And for many other parents, they might want to introduce the topic before their kids hear about it from friends, at school, or in the media or news. Whenever you decide that you want to bring up the topic of climate change, it's important to try to explain the facts and remember that this is probably going to be an ongoing discussion and not just one conversation.
Age Appropriate Answers to the Question: "What is Climate Change?"
Our kids absorb much more than we often are aware of. They're basically little sponges! Even thought it may seem like kids wouldn't understand the nuanced details about something as complex as climate change, kids generally get a lot out of these conversations.
Our first tip is to stick to age appropriate facts with as little jargon as possible. If you don't know where to start, we drafted these sample scripts for different age groups that you can use below. You can alter the sample scripts below to your child's interest, level of understanding and curiosity, and add or subtract other concepts you'd like to introduce.
Ages 2-4: Just like we depend on the Earth for food and water, the way that we treat the Earth also matters. We are all connected. Some things that humans do can even cause the Earth to heat up. We call that climate change. Scientists are learning so much about it and what we can do to be nice to the Earth.
Ages 5-7: People's activities, like driving cars that use gasoline, or burning coal for energy to heat buildings, increase something called greenhouse gases in the sky. These act like a warm blanket between our planet and space. Over time scientists have shown that it is leading to the Earth's temperature getting warmer. This matters because the temperature affects our oceans, land, air, plants, animals, and humans. We all have an effect on one another. We can all make better choices to help take care of our earth by using less fossil fuels and by using only what we need.
Ages 8-12: The Earth's climate is warming up and scientists know that human activities that use fossil fuels like gasoline for cars or burning coal to heat our homes is contributing to climate change. When these fossil fuels are burned they create greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane that trap in heat from the sun and create a sort of blanket around our earth, making it warmer. Scientists believe that these warmer temperatures are contributing to more bad weather, which can affect our crops, businesses, health, water resources, and wildlife. People can make better choices to help take care of our Earth by using less fossil fuels and by conserving or using only what we need.
Ages 13+: The Earth's climate changes over time. Sometimes it's hotter to times and it's colder. But changes from natural causes are usually gradual. Some human activities, like burning fossil fuels like gasoline and coal, are speeding things up. Burning fossil fuels increases greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which trap more heat. As a result, the global climate is becoming warmer. Scientists believe that with global warming, we can expect more bad weather, like hurricanes, wildfires, drought, and floods. These bad weather patterns can affect our crops, economy, health, water resources, and wildlife. We can all work together, as a family and as a community to make better choices and decisions to fight climate change.
How To Continue the Conversation
After the initial explanation of what climate change is, there are several ways to continue the conversation. One of the first follow up conversations should focus on local impacts to make it relevant to your lives. Try something like, "Do you remember how there were some days where it was really really hot this summer that it was almost too hot to go outside?" or "Can you remember the last time it rained?"
The second way to continue the conversation is by spending time as a family outside. You don't have to go far! Even on a walk around the block, you can spend time noticing insects, plants, and the weather. Spending time outside with your kids and engaging their natural curiosity is a great way to learn about your local ecosystem. It is also a great way to learn about how people are dependent on nature and in turn, how people impact the environment. By cultivating a love of being outdoors in nature, it gives your kids a greater reason to want to take care of their environment.
Another important way to continue the conversation on climate change is to put the focus on people. It's very easy to talk about polar bears and other far off places, but it's just as important to start exploring concepts of equity and justice. The impacts of climate change exacerbate existing health and social inequities, so low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected (2). Putting the focus on people, friends, communities, and our interconnectedness is a great lens for inspiring much needed action.
Lastly, it's important to find a support network to help continue the conversation. This can be friends and other family members, neighbors, a community group, or your schools. Whether it's a nature walk with friends or learning how to compost with your neighbors, getting your kids involved is a great way to increase their understanding about climate change. You can also look up local and state environmental groups and get involved locally. This is a great way to find other families with similar interests. And lastly, ask your schools about how they integrate climate change into their curriculum. There are a lot of resources listed below that you can forward to your kids' educators.
Resources for How to Talk to Your Kids about Climate Change
- NASA has a great interactive Climate Kids website with videos, activity suggestions and more.
- Common Sense Media has a list of climate change-related movies for all ages
- Yale Climate Connections has compiled a list of children's books about climate change. There are titles for different age levels, from preschool through young adult.
- Science Moms is a group of climate scientists that are moms. They have lots of great videos and resources.
- The Alliance for Climate Education has a multimedia resource called Our Climate Our Future to help youth understand the science and how to advocate for solutions.
- Google has online environmental sustainability lesson plans for grades 5-8
- The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility has many lesson plans and additional resources for climate change education.
- The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has many activities and resources for grades 6-12.
- Yale Climate Connections is a multimedia source of articles, videos, blogs, and radio stories that aim to help citizens understand how the changing climate is already affecting our lives.
- The Climate Reality Project has a great family guide for talking about climate change.
- Climate Kids has lots of fun activities, educational materials, and additional resources for kids of all ages.
- The California Academy of Science has a list of activities, videos, and other resources to bring science into the home.
- The Pulitzer Center has a great series of lesson plans called "Losing Earth" done in conjunction with the New York Times Magazine.
- Climate Change Resources has a listing of resources just for kids.