Activities and advice for enjoying nature with your kids
It’s undeniable: Our kids and grandkids will have to pick up where we leave off in the battle against climate change. But equipping them for the challenges ahead doesn’t necessarily require a serious “birds-and-bees” kind of talk. “The first job for all of us as parents and people who have kids is to get them to love the world around them,” says writer Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and father of a 17-year-old. “That’s hard to do if you’re simultaneously telling them it’s in enormous peril.” Below are a few ideas on how to ease your kids into the fight.
- Be age-appropriate. The more difficult aspects of climate change will be lost on very young kids (think preschool age through early elementary). Instead cultivate a conservation ethic by introducing them to nature’s miracles with activities as simple as a walk through the woods coupled with a game of I Spy. Shoot for an hour outside each day. Parents should, however, model environmentally conscientious behavior and explain in simple terms why they’re engaging in it. See “The Easy Part” (below) for quick ways to cut carbon use at home. Starting around fourth or fifth grade, children are more apt to understand the basics of climate change. If your kid asks about it, give her a simple explanation but don’t lay on a guilt trip. Involve her in democratic solutions to household quagmires, such as bathroom hogging. Encourage middle and high schoolers to write letters to community leaders and lawmakers, and even schedule a meeting with them.
- Learn. If your child (or you) wants to know more about the science behind climate change, check out Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch’s primer, How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate, or The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming, by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon (both aimed at kids in the upper elementary and early middle school age group).
- Get inspired. Kids love to watch other kids. Share with your older child a series of short films spotlighting youth doing their part at youngvoicesonclimatechange.com (also created by Cherry).
- Take action. For family-friendly tips on writing letters, planning a meeting, and talking with your legislators, go to audubonaction.org/family or email email@example.com. The Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan organization with chapters in multiple states, trains citizens how to talk with their representatives about global warming.—Julie Leibach
The Easy Part
- Carry a fabric bag. It takes the same amount of petroleum to make 14 plastic bags as it does to drive a car one mile.
- Unplug electronic devices when you don’t need them and save up to 10 percent of your annual energy consumption. Use a surge protector for multiple appliances and turn it off at the end of the day to cut off power completely.
- Drink from a reusable container. Worldwide, an estimated 2.7 million tons of plastic are used every year for bottled water.
- Use a carbon calculator to estimate your family’s emissions and learn more ways that your family can improve its energy habits. You can find one at PBS’s kids’ site, The Greens.
“I remember walks in the woods with my mother, a geologist who minored in botany. She always got excited when she went to a new place, saw a new flower or new bird, or saw a really cool geological formation. Vacations meant going to a national park. I don’t remember not being into nature.”—Camille Parmesan, climate change biologist
Teach kids about aspects of climate and its impact on life by building a terrarium. Put a one-inch layer of pebbles on the bottom of a clear container. Cover it with a thin layer of fine charcoal, then an inch of potting soil. Make little holes and place small plants such as ferns inside, covering the roots. Water until moist. Stick a thermometer in the container; cover with a tight lid. Condensation should form on the walls and top. Put the terrarium in a well-lit window with a second thermometer outside. Plants should grow, and the terrarium should also be warmer inside as it traps heat like a greenhouse. This is analogous to the earth’s greenhouse effect: Gases in our atmosphere trap some of the sun’s energy and heat energy from the ground, which can cause the planet to warm. Explain to kids that the greenhouse effect is a natural process that sustains life but can become unbalanced when greenhouse gases are rapidly released into the air. More of these gases trap more heat, which can lead to higher global average temperatures. (Adapted from Ology, the American Museum of Natural History)—Michael Lowe
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