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5 Ways to Teach Children About Climate Change

Climate change is a big topic that can be difficult even for adults to wrap their minds around—especially, it seems, if they are elected to Congress. Although indicators of it are all around us, it can be hard for someone who's not a scientist—as members of Congress keep telling us they aren't—to put together cause and effect.

For a child, the concept is even more abstract. But the good news is that kids are receptive to new information and there are fun ways out there to make real to them how the climate is changing and what humans are doing to make that happen.

Kids can participate with their parents in projects such as a beach cleanup, where people gather to pick up trash on local beaches.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

1. Play a game. By their very nature, games are fun and kids have that spirit of friendly competition. NASA's Climate Kids Eyes on the Earth website has a series of online games kids can play or parents came play with very young kids. There's a climate trivia game that offers multiple choice answers and clear, simple explanations for why a choice is right of wrong; kids can vie to see who can come up with the right answer. Play Climate Bingo, "Recycle This," or get into the Climate Time Machine to see how the climate has changed over time and how it might look in the future. All of the games provide copious information, stated in clear terms kids can understand, about what is happening to the climate. EcoKids offers games for different age levels, such as "The Case of the Warming Planet" in which child detectives match up greenhouse gases with their source to "solve" the case and learn what they can do to slow climate change.

2. Watch a video. There's a wide variety of short videos online covering climate change in different ways, ranging from the humorous and to the strictly informational. Sustainability Hub has picked the "Ten Best Videos on Climate Change." Most are bite-sized clips suitable for a child's attention span. Free Range Studios' animated 3D video Change for the Oceans demonstrates the impacts of rising sea levels and melting ice on various marine animals. Others, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's The Physical Basis provide a meatier but still easy-to-understand explanation of the science of climate change. One intriguing video, Song for a Warming Planet, features a project by University of Minnesota grad student Daniel Crawford who used fluctuating global temperatures to "compose" a piece of music that illustrates climate change aurally. Watch him perform it on his cello!

3. Download an app. There's a sea of apps out there that will bring facts about climate change to your phone to share with your child. Painting with Time: Climate Change lets kids explore how a certain location has changed over the years due to climate change. They can "wipe away" the changes at different speeds. The app also includes information about why these changes are occurring and tips for taking photos to monitor climate change in their own communities. Voodoo Skies: Normal or Not could appeal to an older child (or adult), allowing the user to compare the current weather in his location (or another) to the historical weather on that day. Its huge database of weather history could be a real time suck for the weather-obsessed.

4. Do a project. Nothing drives home an idea to kids more than actually DOING something. Encourage them to think about climate change for their next science fair project. They can measure how weather conditions impact how fast a puddle melts or explore how frost forms, drawing larger conclusions from the evidence in front of them. Kids can also participate with their parents in projects such as a beach cleanup, where people gather to pick up trash on local beaches. Huge bags of plastic picked up from a single beach provide a concrete reminder of what dumping non-degradable waste can do to the environment.

5. Join a museum or nature center. An outing to your local natural history museum or nature center puts information in front of a child in a memorable way. They're be able to look at and explore exhibits which these days are increasingly interactive at all but the most basic nature centers. Most offer specialized programs including films, lectures, storytelling, hikes and nature fairs. Plus a membership in a museum or nature center is not only a great gift for a child who can then feel a sense of ownership and belonging, but they—and you—are supporting an organization that is actively working to educate people of all ages about the actual science of the world around us and helping inoculate them against the politicized talking points of climate deniers.

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