Teaching about Change, Climate and Otherwise February 05 2022, 0 Comments
“There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus
The last two years have been full of changes, and it is sometimes hard to adapt quickly. Children need to know that change is a characteristic of our planet and of life. There is a new book that helps with this concept. All Things Change: Nature’s rhythms from sprouting seeds to shining stars by Anna Clayborne and Sarah Edmonds (2021) tells about change on many scales. It starts with the Big Bang and looks at seasonal and daily changes in the cosmos. It shows life cycles and changes in people, too. And it introduces the change that is so challenging to us, climate change.
Natural cycles of change – day and night, phases of the moon, the tides – are comforting and familiar. Climate change is quite the opposite. All of us are impacted by it, some in small ways but many in very major ways. Children need to know what is happening and what they can do to help. This is not a subject to ignore, but rather one to prioritize.
To understand why climate change is such a problem now, one needs to consider the rate of change. It might help children to imagine this with a story about changes in their classroom. What would it be like if their daily schedule changed frequently, and they didn’t know what to expect? What would it be like if materials were in a different place each day? It would be confusing, and children would spend a lot of energy figuring out what is going on. Animals and plants whose environment is changing have lots of stresses, including not being able to find enough food and having extreme weather events like droughts, heat waves, and extra strong storms.
There is a productive place in between despair and denial, and that is where our lessons and books need to be. Some of the books I read were so heavy on the doom and gloom that I felt they would produce more paralysis than action. Others brought the hope of people working together in a variety of ways.
It is always good to start with factual information. For this, I like a World Book publication, Understanding Climate Change, from the Earth’s Changing Climate series (updated 2019). It lays out the basics of the greenhouse effect, and it brings up a number of ideas about why the Earth is warming. It provides evidence that the magnitude of change that we are seeing is not because of volcanos or variations in the Sun, but rather, it is because of humans burning fossil fuels and releasing other greenhouse gases. This series is for upper elementary and middle school levels. You can preview it online.
For beginning elementary, the book, The Story of Climate Change: A first book about how we can help save our planet by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams is a good introduction. It begins with the early Earth and tells about climate change throughout our planet’s history.
You may need to help children understand that “save our planet” really means “save the biosphere.” The Earth will keep on rotating on its axis and orbiting the Sun no matter what humans do. The tides will continue each day no matter the sea level. It is the biosphere that is being threatened by climate change.
Children need to know that they can take actions that help with climate change, but I would not want them to feel like they have to fix the whole problem. It is, however, important for everyone to do what they can to make constructive changes in their everyday life. Some have voluntarily taken extensive actions, and their stories can be inspiring. Old Enough to Save the Planet by Loll Kirby and Adelina Lirius tells the story of twelve children from around the world that have done something to counter climate change. The children and their projects are diverse, and their stories lay out a range of possibilities.
Climate change is directly related to how we use the resources of our planet. One of the pressing problems is with plastics and waste. A Portuguese marine biologist has written a book with a creative approach to the problem. She decided to treat plastic like an invasive species, so she gave it a Latin name that is also the title of her book. Plasticus maritimus: An invasive species was written by Ana Pêgo and Isabel Minhós Martins and illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho. This book tells the story of the main author and her efforts to clean up the beach. It has lots of good and interesting information about plastics and the environmental problems they cause. It also tells about alternatives to plastic and the places where laws have been passed to limit the use of plastics.
The problems of climate change and the use of plastics will be with us indefinitely, but that is no reason to ignore them. I hope that you and your children will find uplifting stories and productive ways of making progress on these problems.