While it once felt like a problem of the future, a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that people around the world need to take climate change very seriously right now. And that can be scary for kids and parents. Luckily, your child can start fighting climate change right outside your door with fun and important explorations.
A recent study found that spending time with kids in nature can help children develop attitudes and behaviours that favour the environment. “Even if you live downtown in a big city, your child can still experience nature. Nature isn’t just wilderness — it’s all that we experience with our senses when we go outside,” explains Kim Taylor, Resource Development Coordinator at Let's Talk Science, a national charitable organization committed to inspiring and empowering children and youth of all ages in Canada to develop the skills they need to participate and thrive in an ever-changing world.
“It’s the feel of the sun on your face, the wind in your hair and the splash of a puddle. It’s hearing birds, smelling the grass after it rains and noticing buds appearing on trees. By experiencing these things firsthand, curiosity, wonder and appreciation can flourish,” she says.
So it might be time to trade some screen time for time outdoors. Here are six ways to introduce the concept of climate change to your kids while encouraging a connection with the environment.
Climate change is an abstract subject for kids, but you can explain that climate is simply the pattern of weather in a certain place over time. It used to be more stable, but in recent years, the climate has beeen fluctuating in ways we’ve never seen, with extreme weather like storms and unseasonal temperatures becoming more common. Have your child keep a journal of the local weather day-to-day to help them get a sense of the climate where they are. Taylor suggests helping your child add observations to their journal, like “This is the warmest April I can remember,” or “I don’t remember ever having seen the river this high before.”
Kids can help take care of plants, like vegetables in a garden or flowering plants in pots. “Growing and nurturing plants helps children to understand that living things have needs and that people have a role to play in helping living things meet those needs,” says Taylor. Make connections between climate change and the needs of plants, for example: how hotter temperatures may mean that a plant needs more water.
Head outside for a few rounds of “I Spy” to get your kids associating words with the natural wonders around them. Language empowers kids to better understand and connect to their environment. Another great parent-initiated game is a nature scavenger hunt, where you give your kids a list of items to find, like sticks, colourful leaves and rocks.
Taylor recommends putting together an outdoor tool kit with a magnifying glass, a pair of children’s binoculars, a shovel and a clear container with a lid. These items can help kids find and collect natural specimens to examine.
Books are also a great way to educate kids on climate change. Start with Living in a Warming World: A Book about Canadian Animals and Climate Change, a free, downloadable e-book by Let’s Talk Science.
Sometimes you just need to send your kids out the back door or let them explore a neighbourhood park for some open outdoor play. Letting them play without unnecessary restrictions is vital for encouraging exploration. If kids need ideas for how to bring nature into their outdoor games, Taylor says to start with something they are already interested in. This could mean building a mini amusement park using natural materials or collecting natural items to examine under a microscope.
Go on walks with your kids and, along the way, observe how people are helping the environment—say, a commuter riding a bike, or a neighbour planting flowers. Weaving these conversations into daily life helps keep children aware of climate change without fostering fear. To keep the outlook positive, you can also share news stories about developing technologies and shifting cultures that are creating positive change.
It doesn’t take much to cement a lifelong relationship between your kids and the natural world around them—the possibilities are endless. “Flowers can be seen, carefully touched and smelled; trees can be hugged and climbed; and of course, dirt can be dug!” says Taylor.
Kids’ feelings of stewardship and protection for our planet will blossom naturally as they learn to love the outside world. With a little guidance from parents, children who care about the environment will grow into adults who care about the environment—hopeful adults who believe that they are part of the solution, not the problem.