The solutions blueprint: Kids 👦🏽
You asked, we delivered
Climate Solutions // I S S U E # 7 1 // K I D S
But the most important step? Just taking one (there’s lots of science to back that up). You’ll be surprised by how much easier the next one is after that.
Mary DeMocker, climate activist and author of The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution, collected some of the best resources for teachers and parents to start the conversation below.
Solutions blueprint: How to talk to your kids about climate
Smallest step: Talk with kids about the climate crisis by listening
Really listen. Mouth closed, phone off, eyes on them. Few adults do this really well around emotions related to climate. Most kids don't want to admit they feel scared. They're desperate for adults to address the elephant in the room, to listen, and remove the burden from them.
By really hearing what kids think, feel, and need, you can validate their emotional responses. This is the starting point for everything else. When kids feel less afraid and alone, they can relax a little. Then they’re better able to connect with others, listen, imagine, and learn about solutions. To encourage them, say, “Tell me more” or “I hear you” or “Lots of people share your feelings.” If true, then you can say “I feel that, too, sometimes.”
Be clear about what’s not working (recycling is nice, but won’t get us out of this mess) and what is needed (the rapid change of attitudes, politics, education, infrastructure—basically, everything). Then, help them find their role in the solutions that do matter, however small at first.
Don’t forget to share the good news: Try saying this: “The future isn’t yet written. Scientists say there’s time to avoid the worst impacts and that every tiny change in global heating will make a huge difference. The changes we do make will improve life for everyone, people and animals.”
“Many kids feel as you do and are already taking action. Would you like to do that, too? Let’s brainstorm ideas.” Then, watch or read something together. Kids want adults to face this crisis with them. See our list of best hits below for books, movies, and podcasts. Kids can join (or start) your local youth-led Sunrise hub or their school’s climate club, or school strikes led or supported by Fridays For Future. Learn about, support, or join Youth V. Gov (global, youth climate lawsuits).
Biggest step: Demand district-wide K1-12. climate justice education.
Join or gather local parents, students, community members, and educators to insist we tell students the truth about the climate crisis and prepare them to solve it.
In 2016, the city of Portland, Oregon passed the first-in-the-nation resolution for district-wide climate justice education in 2016. It was the result of work by a coalition of students, parents, teachers, and community members. Organizers wrote up “Organizing Lessons from the Portland Climate Justice Resolution” with step-by-step instructions for others to replicate their successes and avoid their mistakes.
Remember, parents hold the most sway with school boards and superintendents. It takes time to build parental support before lobbying. But it can work, as we noted in our issue Talking to your kid about climate change:
“Those who want comprehensive climate justice education for their children, she suggests, can get together and advocate for city or statewide programming. Watch—or even influence—who’s elected to the school board that chooses your child’s curriculum. And speak up.
“One parent,” says Naumoff, “is more powerful at the school board than 100 teachers.”
Our favorite movies, books, and more
🎬 See this (movies, docs, and shorts)
These are stories about ordinary people who love their lands, cultures, and communities, and are using their imaginations—and organizing skills—to build a future we can all thrive in.
short: The Story of Stuff Project features creative, short, and easy-to-understand animated films to enlighten and empower changemakers on the path to a “more just and sustainable future.”
documentary: Necessity beautifully portrays 21st-century resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure through the use of nonviolent civil disobedience. Students are fascinated to learn about ordinary people using their moral authority to fight against the expansion of pipelines carrying toxic tar sands oil through North America.
documentary: Youth v Gov, on the legal campaign by 21 kids from all over the US who are suing the government for their constitutional right to a livable planet. (The short films portray Youth v. Gov plaintiffs.)
music video: Long Forgotten Road (2020) is a four-minute youth climate anthem featuring a montage of global youth climate protests. Offers musical, globe-trotting inspiration for when kids of any age feel nobody’s addressing the climate emergency.
documentary: This Changes Everything by Avi Lewis (study guide here): Stories from ordinary people fighting fossil fuel extraction through grassroots organizing. 2015. Cinematic direct action. Bottom line: A different future is possible, people power works. (Naomi Klein, who wrote the seminal This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate is in the movie, but don’t expect it to be much like her book.)
animated short: A Message From the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (sequel, A Message From the Future II – The Years of Repair). Visual delights in beautiful watercolor. Depicts a just, healthy future told from many years in the future.
🙉 Hear this
podcast: As She Rises: The impacts of the climate crisis on the homes and lives of poets and activists, all women of color in the US and territories. Nine powerful, intimate, 25-40 minute episodes shared through poetry and storytelling. 2021.
podcast: The Timber Wars: This podcast, alternately devastating and hopeful, illuminates how the 1990s war over Northwest old-growth forests redefined the global environmental movement. 2020. Fascinating, well-done, listens to both sides, finds common ground.
Do you like this Solutions Format? What worked well for you about this format for getting solutions? What didn’t work well? Tell us in the comments!
🔨 Do this:
Model what taking system-changing action looks like. Show kids that because “everything is connected to everything else,” civics is a natural, no-big-deal part of family and academic life. Talk about climate solutions not just with kids but with their principals, pediatricians, and policy-makers. Support local social and environmental justice campaigns through volunteerism, engagement, or by donating money.
Join: With younger children (or for yourself), check out these parent-led grassroots parent- and family-led advocacy groups:
Mothers Out Front (US-based, mom-powered, “mobilizing for a livable climate”)
Parents For Future (“a global group of parents and caring adults who promote intergenerational activism to build climate justice.”)
Our Kids Climate (global organization. They “support, connect, and amplify climate parent organizers”)
350.org, while not family-led, “standing up to the fossil fuel industry to stop all new coal, oil and gas projects and build a clean energy future for all.” They’re also dialed into fossil fuel resistance networks everywhere.
🎓 ✏️ Teach this (for parents and teachers alike):
Help students love what we’re working to protect—rights and the environment. Honor personal and cultural differences, local ecosystems, oceans, sea turtles. Find what they love and learn the science. Use major science research sites and articles. Teach current events and relate it to the structure of what you're teaching. Don't be afraid of big topics, just teach the truth in developmentally appropriate ways.
Use the many teaching resources from the amazing Zinn Education Project, which “promotes and supports the teaching of people’s history in middle and high school classrooms.” Climate justice-related resources include:
Our Kids Climate: How to talk to children about the climate crisis
Teach Climate Justice program: Offers free resources to address the “gulf between the climate emergency and schools’ inadequate response.”
A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis, edited by Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart: A teacher-tested “collection of articles, role plays, simulations, stories, poems, and graphics to help breathe life into teaching about the environmental crisis.” 2014.
Read aloud or assign passages from Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall-Kimmerer, a botanist, professor, mother, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. This beautiful book of essays has passages guiding readers to use our imaginations to restore our connection to nature and one another. Use this free teaching guide offered by the Univ. of Oregon.
Try this exercise: Ask kids to imagine the world they really want in 2040—no holds barred. Express that vision in art, words, music. Share.
Finally, take a breather. Steal 5 minutes here and there for emotional processing. Gauge students’ emotions while respecting their privacy: Teach kids to face forward (toward teacher) while signaling with their fingers flat against their chests: 1 finger = “not doing well / scared / overwhelmed” up to 5 fingers = “totally good.” If you see 4-5 fingers, kids are good with the discussion. Lots of 1-2 fingers? Time for an “otter break” (hold up photo book of otters playing).
Hothouse is a weekly climate action newsletter written and edited by Mike Coren and Cadence Bambenek. We rely on readers to support us, and everything we publish is free to read. Follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.