Children who are born into today’s world are among those who will be most drastically impacted by climate change — in fact, many children around the world are already living through wildfires and floods. Knowing how scary this can be, early childhood educators, parents, and caregivers need to find ways to help children grapple with these realities in a developmentally appropriate way, rather than sweeping them under the rug. Education can provide a way forward; it's been described as an incredibly powerful tool in reducing climate change’s risks.
While there are curricula that help older children understand climate change, there aren’t many education resources geared toward early childhood. To help young children feel empowered in the face of climate change and anxiety, Harvard Graduate School of Education alum and early childhood educator Keya Lamba, with guidance from HGSE associate professor Dana McCoy, has developed Earth Warriors — a comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, and scientifically accurate curriculum for young children.
“There’s a lot of ‘gloom and doom’ talk around climate change, but we want kids to be able to feel empowered when thinking about tackling climate change,” says Lamba. “We want to help children build habits and mindsets around sustainable behavior, help them feel like part of a larger global community all working together to tackle climate change, and recognize that their individual actions can make a difference.”
Here, Lamba shares a few “do’s” and “buts” for parents and teachers who want to help even the youngest learners take care of the planet:
- DO hone a love for nature. An appreciation for the natural world helps motivate students and builds a mindset for wanting to take care of the earth.
- BUT also keep the focus local. Focus on the natural world in a child’s immediate surroundings. Go for nature walks and explore parks. It’s important that they see how directly connected they are to the planet.
- DO have honest conversations about the realities of climate change. “As much as we may want to protect or shield kids from its realities, climate change is very much a part of their world now and kids are observant,” says Lamba.
- DO develop connections within your local community. The Earth Warriors curriculum culminates in a project where students identify and work to solve a sustainability problem in their community, like food waste in the school cafeteria or writing to a representative about endangered species in their area. “Kids need to feel like they’re part of a community and that their actions make a difference,” says Lamba. “So knowing what problems they face in their local area and what they can do on a daily basis, no matter how small, is key.”
- BUT also connect children with other Earth Warriors around the globe. It’s important children know they’re not working alone and that there are other Earth Warriors around the world who are also working to fix similar problems. Earth Warriors connects children through virtual pen pal programs and helps coordinate live sessions between classrooms in different locations.
“When it comes to climate change, it isn’t just about teaching the science — especially at such a young age,” says Lamba. “We know that feelings, mindsets, and habits are not only developmentally appropriate but help build a strong foundation so young people can continue the work of caring for our planet as they get older.”