Encourage Action and Solutions-Centered Learning
Balance discussions about the impact of a changing climate with actions students can take. Work with children to brainstorm concrete helpful actions that are within their control, such as riding their bike to school or planting a tree. Remember that children are capable of taking individual action as well as leading collective action within their spheres of influence (e.g., family, friends, neighborhood). Share examples (e.g.,Young Voices for the Planet, Alliance for Climate Education, Earth Guardians) of youth climate action to inspire conversation and empower students.
Solutions-centered learning about climate change supports students' developing understanding that humans are a part of nature. Given the realities of human-caused ecological damage, students may acquire beliefs that humans are bad for nature. Instead, learning about the array of possible climate solutions demonstrates that humans can act in healthy, sustainable ways that contribute to ecological well-being.
Using a carbon footprint calculator with students can be a helpful entry point for designing climate solutions within a classroom or school community. These tools help students connect ideas about climate change to their own daily lives and behaviors, and they can decide together what solutions to implement within the classroom and/or campus.
An effective model to engage students in solution-oriented action is the NGSS Engineering Design process, which involves defining the problem, designing solutions, and then optimizing those solutions. In the earlier grades, students view problems as "situations people want to change," using various materials and representations to solve problems and convey solutions. Students compare solutions to determine which best addresses the needs and goals of the problem. In the older elementary grades, students define a set of criteria and constraints that solutions must meet, research and develop a variety of solutions, and then test and improve these solutions.
When creating or implementing solutions, you can optimize student engagement by basing actions within their local environments and communities. This context will help connect students' prior knowledge and experiences, and make their learning experiences personally relevant and culturally sustaining. A focus in the local environment also helps to keep solutions within students' locus of control. Students who feel that they have the power to make a positive impact are less likely to feel the helplessness, anxiety, and despair that may result from discussions about climate change impacts. With young learners especially, education about the problems associated with climate change should be tempered with a considerable focus on solutions and environmental activism.
Messages should impart hope and trust. Reassure students that adults and scientists are finding solutions to the problem as well, and that they aren't solely responsible for the future of our planet. Try to avoid sharing too many of your own anxieties about the impacts of climate change with this age group. Instead, instill an appreciation for and responsibility towards nature. Provide nature experiences for students, so that they can first learn to love and empathize with their environment.