The topic of climate change and global warming is one that can be confusing, and even frightening for children. The key is to use education as a tool to empower kids to help them understand how they can make changes to help the environment. Knowledge is empowering, and getting kids involved in the classroom is the first step to helping them understand climate change.
Classroom Demonstrations and Activities
Classroom activities surrounding the topic of climate change help kids comprehend complex scientific research by involving them in hands-on projects.
Elementary School Activities
- National Wildlife Federation's Climate Classroom climate smart educational resources and learning opportunities that correspond to the science and issues presented in the series "Years of Living Dangerously."
- Windows to the Universe's Glacier Activity allows students to look at photographs of glaciers and determine how Alaskan glaciers have changed over the last century, and how that will impact the environment.
- Energy Star's Light Bulb Experiment (PDF, 88KB) allows students to compare CFL light bulbs to other bulbs, resulting in discussions about the importance of saving energy and how saving energy reduces global warming.
- Canadian Wildlife Federation's Animal Trackers Activity Aimed at both school teachers and non-formal educators like youth group and community leaders, WILD Education is a professional development program that trains educators to become certified instructors of Project WILD, Below Zero and WILD about Sports.
Middle and High School Activities
- Windows to the Universe's Schoolyard Heat Activity teaches students about the urban heat island effect by investigating which areas of their schoolyard have higher temperatures. They analyze data about how the number of heat waves in an urban area has increased over time with population. Windows to the Universe's Climate Model Activity teaches students to read and interpret graphs of data that allows them to predict temperature change over the 21st Century. More Windows to the Universe Activities: Students learn the differences between animal and fossil fuel sources of global carbon dioxide, they learn how to use maps to plan towns in the Land Plan Challenge by being conscious of water resources, and they learn to graph and interpret polar ice area as it relates to seasonal changes.
- National Center For Atmospheric Research's Tree Ring Activity (PDF, 681KB) teaches students how to interpret past climate conditions from tree ring thickness.
- Union of Concerned Scientists’ Activity Guide offers a 30 page activity packet. One activity has students look at maps of malaria distribution to evaluate how climate change could affect the spread of disease.
Classroom projects surrounding climate change issues, that the class completes together, can help students see the results of being environmentally-friendly.
- Create a compost pile from leftover lunch and snack items. Check out the "snack sort" compost method from the Kids For Saving the Earth website (PDF, 146KB).
- Establish a school-wide bike or walk to school day.
- Hold a fundraiser selling reusable water bottles and shopping bags while educating the community about sustainable products. Check out Back2Tap's teaching resources for information on the life cycle of a plastic water bottle.
- Create a school garden to teach students about sustainability and growing their own food. Learn how to start your garden and activities you can do in the garden at the School Garden Wizard website.
- Start a campaign to replace school lights with eco-friendly light bulbs or to replace paper products with recycled-content paper.
- Create a school-wide bring your own lunch day, stressing the use of lunchboxes, thermoses and re-usable plastic-ware/ utensils!
- Plan an end-of-the-day room check. During the last few minutes of the day, have students make sure all the water faucets are completely turned off, blinds are closed, lights are off and windows are closed.
- Start a class website. Older students will respond to a class website, where they can get homework help, submit discussion questions, and play with interactive study guides, all of which save paper.
- Campaign for an Idle-Free School Zone. Idle-Free School Zones are catching on, encouraging parents who arrive at school to pick up their kids to turn off their engines and reduce pollution.
- Start a printer cartridge and cell phone recycling campaign in the classroom. Earn enough money through the Funding Factory to take students on an eco-friendly field trip.
- Check out the Solar Schoolhouse Program and the possibility of your classroom starting a solar revolution at your school.
Field Trip Ideas
Taking kids out of the classroom environment and into the "real-world" helps students gain perspective on the immediate threat of climate change and the need for action. Take students on field trips where they can learn how to help reduce their impact on the environment and make a difference in their community.
- Organize a field trip to clean-up a local park or visit a nature preserve.
- If funds are tight, take students on a Google Earth Virtual Field Trip to explore glaciers and permafrost in relation to climate change.
- Check out the Climate Change Education's website for a list of field trip locations, such as the San Diego EcoCenter for Alternative Fuels.
- Visit National Parks, like Yellowstone, to learn how the park diverts 72% of visitor waste from the landfill through reuse, recycling and donation.
- Look at the California Science Teachers Association's list of field trip locations, such as Santa Monica's Heal the Bay Pier Aquarium.
- Check out the Climate Change Education's hands-on science demonstration that teaches students about climate change, greenhouse gases and planetary atmospheres.
- Visit the California Science Center to learn how we all take in energy, and check out their website to explore different field trip programs and current exhibits.
- Check out the California Climate Change Education's list of Global Warming Exhibits, such as the Birch Aquarium's "Feeling the Heat: The Climate Challenge" exhibit.
- EPA Kids Site has information for kids about climate change, along with games and animations.
- Kids For Saving Earth has a list of simple projects for young children and simplified information about global warming.
- Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has facts, figures, tips, a glossary and a Climate Change 101 page for kids.
- National Geographic Kids Page includes green tips, games, contests, news stories and activities for kids to recycle and be more environmentally aware.