Kids Against Climate Change: A Website for Kids (and the Adults They Love & Admire)
Parents and teachers, picture the last few weeks of the school year before summer vacation. Classrooms are hot. Children are restless. Everyone is so DONE. However, a few years back, in 2015, my students were focused and driven in those final weeks of the school year. They had been learning about climate change, understood its implications (in a basic sort of way), and had been talking to their families about reducing their carbon footprint. During a class discussion, several students declared that more kids should know about climate change. They believed strongly that if kids knew about it, they would do two things: take action, and tell others about climate change so they too would begin taking action. The best way to get the word out, they lectured me, was to create our own website. Kids Against Climate Change was born.
My students really hustled during the few weeks we had left together. They began brainstorming what should be on the website, created drawings and videos, recommended their favorite sites for learning climate science, and chewed over how they would spread the word about our new website. We were so excited when it had been viewed 100 times!
In subsequent years, my current students continued to use the site and add content, as did visitors to the site. I soon realized this little website filled a niche. The only one of its kind, this “by kids for kids” website offers age-appropriate information, inspiration, and a platform for kid-to-kid dialogue. And the really happy news is that each year, more teachers and their students are showing interest in learning about climate; and they’re looking for ways they can help slow down its effects. Now, in 2021, our site has now been viewed over 82,000 times!
Although I’ve retired from the classroom, I continue to monitor the site, add content, and take recommendations from kids and teachers who communicate with me through the site. I’m now a Climate Change Education Consultant, and an instructor for the University of San Diego in California, providing professional development for teachers all over the world. As a teacher for over 30 years, I understand what students and teachers need for a classroom resource to be valuable.
I work to keep the site useful, manageable, and selective. Kids Against Climate Change is free to use, has no advertising, and doesn’t require registration. I have funding from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I monitor all content to make sure it’s age-appropriate for school children, elementary through high school.
There are three areas of focus on the website: education, artistic expression, and collaboration. The Start Learning page highlights favorite articles, videos, and environmental online games. It’s divided into two sections: one for younger students, and one for older students. There’s also a section for teachers, which includes lesson plans to get them started teaching climate, and a link to my website if they’re interested in professional development for their school or educational institution. The next three pages, What Do Kids Know?, What Can Kids Do?, and What Should Adults Do?, are filled with student drawings, videos, and classroom projects that inform and inspire.
The focus on collaboration is a unique and important part of this website. At the bottom of each inside page is a discussion board for kids to voice their concerns, and ideas for slowing down climate change. They are asked to use their first name, and the name of their country as their last name. Since I monitor all comments, they don’t appear on the page until I’ve okayed them, ensuring all comments are appropriate. Although most students are logging in from the United States, we hope the site will become more international. The vision from the beginning was to have kids from all over the world communicating with each other about climate change and ways they could work together to slow it down. (Come on, Canadian neighbors! Join us, eh?)
Providing children with an authentic audience, and with ideas for actions they can take to help slow down climate change, is important. Learning climate science should be a given for all children. It’s merely understanding how the natural world works and interacts, how the increase in particular gases into the atmosphere is having an inevitable impact on other aspects of the atmosphere and hydrosphere, which of course affects the entire biosphere. Children as young as nine years old can understand the basic cause and effect of climate science: increasing air pollution is trapping the sun’s heat close to Earth causing a change to our long-term weather patterns, so dry areas are becoming drier and wet areas are getting wetter, and storms are becoming more intense. Younger children can be taught to love and respect nature; while older children can delve into the chemistry and physics of climate change and how it’s impacting all living things. No matter the age, when children understand that they too can help by taking steps to reduce air pollution, by recycling, turning off lights, reducing waste, etc., they feel energized and empowered.
But perhaps the biggest impact kids can have is by talking to people who have more power than they have. Kids these days are bringing their science education, and their concerns about the implications, right to the dinner table. Learning the science, and inspired by what other children are doing, today’s children are reminding their parents that climate change is a topic that can no longer be ignored. And what parent doesn’t want the best for their child’s future?
When parents were dismissive, I know children who sat them down in front of a computer to read the information and watch the videos on the Kids Against Climate Change Start Learning page. They introduced them to the climate change explanations from NASA, NOAA, National Geographic, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): organizations their parents know and respect. Children can plant the seed of understanding in their parents in a way no scientist can.
Most of Canada and the United States, as well as many countries around the world, now include science standards that require students to recognize the interactions between natural systems, and that human actions can impact these systems. For example, air pollution created by people is altering the carbon cycle, which is altering weather patterns around the world. While teachers have an obligation to teach the science, many are now looking for guidance to develop this new climate science curriculum. Fortunately, many institutions are beginning to offer professional development to support teachers. I teach an asynchronous, online course, Teaching Climate Change in the NGSS Classroom, through the University of San Diego, California. Although aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards in the U.S., it also fulfills science curriculum requirements in many other countries working to grow their climate literate population. As a Climate Change Education Consultant, I also offer professional development at schools and other educational institutions.
The implications of a destabilized climate system can be very scary, but teachers are well-situated to help kids understand the science of climate change, its causes and effects. They are trained to translate the adult world for children, and have been doing so for a long time: lessons in stranger danger, fire drills, and now Covid contamination. Teachers provide an immeasurable service to society by teaching climate science, and helping societies come to terms with our growing understanding of the world around us. The more we are educated about the facts surrounding climate science, the more we can work to slow down our changing climate, pressure people in power to take bolder action, and begin to adapt to the changes we can no longer prevent.
Adult-level knowledge of climate change can feel overwhelming. It’s tempting to give up; and that seems the logical thing to do when we consider the enormity of the task. But then we look at our students, or our own children, and we realize that it’s not an option, because we know at some point those children will ask, “You knew? What did you do about it?”
So, as we begin a new school year, as teachers and parents, let’s teach our children the facts about climate science. Let’s encourage them to voice their concerns and ideas to others. Let’s give them ideas for ways they, their peers, their families, their classmates, can take action. Let’s educate, energize and empower so our children will feel strong and positive moving forward toward a better future.