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Kids are the ones that will be inheriting the world from us. Getting them invested early in protecting the environment will ensure that their curiosity and interest will live on once they become adults.
Figuring out how to introduce the concept of renewable energy to kids can be tricky. The more significant challenge comes down to getting kids interested and excited versus putting them on the receiving end of another lecture.
It will take a bit of planning and creativity, but there are ways to get children interested in renewable energy even at a young age.
What to Explain
The concepts you plan on teaching children should be age-appropriate. An elementary schooler doesn’t need to know the inner complexities of thermodynamics. Start small and slowly build into the topics you want to cover.
Start With Sustainability
Leaping straight into renewable energy is a quick way to lose a kid’s interest. If you start throwing around terms they don’t understand, they will quickly tune out. Depending on their age, you may even get an eye roll.
Sustainability means something can continue to exist for an indefinite amount of time. Gardening is an easy example to present to children for this concept. If a tomato is grown, that tomato contains seeds. Those seeds can be replanted, and the cycle will continue.
Once they understand the concept of sustainability, you can move on to the next step.
Continue With Energy Sustainability
Now that sustainability is a familiar concept, start leading them into how it applies to energy.
Most, if not all, children today know the basics of electricity as it applies to charging items they interact with, like tablets or even smartphones. Explaining to them that energy is where electricity comes from shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.
If you want to continue the gardening analogy for continuity’s sake, it’s adaptable. Using energy sources like natural gas, fossil fuels, and oil, you will still get tomatoes. However, these tomatoes don’t have seeds. Eventually, you won’t even be able to grow tomatoes due to a lack of seeds.
Other ways of explaining it may be easier depending on the children. The key factor they need to learn is that the current energy sources are not sustainable.
End With the Types of Renewable Energy
There are five primary renewable energy types, but you don’t want to introduce them all to kids in one go. Be sure to fully explore all of them so the kids can grasp how and why each one is an option.
The primary types of renewable energy to include in your discussion include:
- Solar – solar energy is one of the most popular forms of renewable energy and one of the easiest to teach kids about. Turning the sun’s rays into electricity is sure to catch their interest. Teach them about how solar panels capture the heat and light (even on cloudy days) and convert all of that into usable energy. You can even describe how astronauts in space rely on solar energy on the International Space Station.
- Hydro – this is another easy renewable energy to explain. It’s a rare child that hasn’t interacted with a creek or river at some point. Explain that the constant movement of the water from the current can be converted into usable energy.
- Wind – show a child a picture of those massive wind turbines and they’re bound to be curious. The wind turns the blades of the fan, much like a pinwheel, which then creates energy that we can use. Really get them thinking about the world around them and how something as simple as the wind can be turned into energy. Some states that allow you to pick your energy provider, also allow you to pick renewable plans that include wind.
- Geothermal – geothermal energy may require a bit of extra explanation if the children haven’t learned about the earth’s core and how hot it is. If they already know about that, then you can show them how pipes that go deep into the ground run steam from this heat up into plants that turn it into electricity.
- Biomass – biomass renewable energy is as simple as burning a source of fuel, so most of this explanation will be what they set on fire and how do they get it. The fuel for these fires comes from byproducts of plants and animals. Manure, crops, and other waste can all apply here.
How to Explain It
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Now that you know the basics, it’s time to pass that on to the kids. The big question is, how are you supposed to make all of this sound cool enough to get the kids interested in renewable energy?
Kids tend to be more into visual learning, so just telling them about these concepts isn’t going to make anything stick.
There are a plethora of options online that can help teach children about renewable energy. Educational games are a great pick to get them interacting with the information, but YouTube videos or simple animations can do the trick as well.
You can use these resources to help kids understand the big picture. Or, you can find videos and games revolving around specific steps like how exactly river currents can provide energy or why fossil fuels aren’t sustainable.
This is one of the best options you can choose to teach kids about renewable energy. Helping them create a science project to test out an aspect of renewable energy will be sure to hold their interest. A hands-on approach always helps with getting the information to stick.
Try these projects for an immersive adventure in alternative energy:
- Build a mini water wheel – the water wheel has been used throughout history, and having kids build their own is a great way to teach how hydropower is created. It can be as simple or as complex as you want, but used popsicle sticks can be turned into a wheel in a pinch. Having a nearby creek or river will be the most immersive way to test this project, but using the water in your sink will get the job done.
- Purify water – this is an effortless multi-day project to set up and will help you explain how versatile the heat from solar energy is. All you need is two containers (one smaller than the other), some water, food coloring, plastic wrap, and a rock. Long story short, the sun’s heat will cause condensation and create a container of purified water. Bonus points if you can show the same results with your stove to show that the energy used naturally is more sustainable.
- Build a wind turbine – while you won’t be able to make it as large as actual wind turbines, this is still a sure way to show how efficient it is to harness the wind’s power. The items you use to build this can vary greatly but cut-up plastic water bottles tend to make solid fan blades. Once you and the kids have created the wind turbine just take it outside and watch the wind spin it around! A pinwheel works if you’d just rather explain with an example, but the act of building the wind turbine will work wonders.
- Cook using a campfire – this may sound more like a leisurely activity than a science experiment, but that was before you told the kids about using biomass for renewable energy. Unless you have casual access to manure, the fuel can just be dead branches and leaves you might find lying around. As you use the fire’s heat to cook (something that requires electricity with the stove) you can show that the fuel to provide the heat came from dead plants that will eventually regrow the lost leaves and branches used. However, be sure to point out the smoke caused by the fire and how any fuel source that creates too much of that can be harmful to people and the planet.
Take a Field Trip
Field trips don’t just have to be school-organized. See if you can find a day to take your child (or students) to a nearby renewable energy plant. Many of these locations are willing to give tours or educate interested people about what they do there.
This is also an excellent way to get free knowledge directly from the experts. They can answer any questions your kids may have that you would need some extensive researching to answer. It’s also engaging for the children to directly see the process that they’ve been learning about.
Show the Impact of Non-Renewable Energy
This is far more effective when the children in question love animals and nature, but it can be useful regardless. Showing them videos of how things like pollution and global warming negatively impact nature can inspire them to start learning about renewable energy to help prevent it.
Be a Role Model
Kids do quite a bit of learning just from observing what the adults in their lives do. How you utilize energy in your day-to-day life can greatly help or hinder the learning process for the kids around you.
It’s not an option for everyone, but many people are beginning to have solar panels installed on the roof of their house. Explaining to kids that their phones charge by way of the power of the sun is sure to get them interested in the overall process.
One way anyone can be a role model is to conserve energy where they can. Once your children know that most energy comes from non-renewable sources, they will realize why you always want lights off when not in use or when you try to keep your energy bills low (besides money).
How to Keep Them Interested
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Now that you have the children interested in renewable energy, you’ll have to make sure that interest continues to grow as time goes on. Unless they completely fell in love with the concept, they may start to forget important information if you don’t keep them engaged.
Have a Weekly Theme
This has the dual purpose of keeping children interested and getting them to look forward to learning.
Give each week a theme that you can base activities and games around. Wind Week could involve some time at the park messing around with kites, or Hydro Week could be learning new aspects of hydroelectricity like how the tides can be used as well.
Home Improvement Projects
You shouldn’t trust a group of young ones to go and install solar panels on the roof, but there are smaller projects around the house or classroom that you can do with them so that they feel they are directly contributing to using clean energy.
These projects don’t even have to be big ones. It could be as simple as swapping out your current light bulbs for more energy-efficient ones. The key is to make children feel involved in the process and let them know exactly how these projects are helping.
One of the best ways to get children interested in anything is to make a game of it.
Whether it’s at home or in the classroom, a game will get them involved in an activity that could continue to teach them about renewable energy. It could be as simple as a made-up card game or as complex as setting up stations around the yard and have them decide which energy would work best at each station.
Some kids also enjoy incentives, so don’t be afraid to offer some sort of prize or reward if they do well in the games.
Keep Your Kids Invested in Clean Energy
It can be a challenge teaching complex concepts to kids, especially if you want them to take an interest in it. Start by breaking down the basic concepts so that you can have good conversations with them about renewable energy.
Kids learn best from visuals and by hands-on learning. Showing them videos, designing and creating projects, and even taking them to a renewable energy plant are all great ways for them to learn. Just remember, they also need a role model to look up to if they are going to take a true interest.
They may stay interested on their own, but there are ways that you as a parent or teacher can help that along. Creating fun ways to bring the subject back around like setting up games, projects, or weekly topics can go a long way towards keeping them interested and invested in renewable energy.