Five Ways For Children to Learn From The Land This Earth Month

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Science education during Earth Month © Courtesy of Let’s Talk Science

The importance of learning outside goes beyond fresh air and fun. A growing body of research suggests that spending time learning outdoors and connecting to the environment improves children’s mental, emotional and physical health and wellbeing. Indigenous cultures have long-held practices of learning from the land and instilling a sense of stewardship in their communities that builds understanding and respect for the natural world.

The future of our planet will rely on commitment from the younger generations to continue to learn about and find ways to fight climate change. Learning and spending time outdoors as children builds a stronger sense of connection to the land and is a great step to ensuring today’s children will be making positive impacts in the future.

Climate Lessons Are Everywhere

“Even if you live in a big city, you can still experience nature firsthand. Nature isn’t just wilderness—it’s all that we experience with our senses when we go outside,” explained Kim Taylor, Resource Development Coordinator at Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization committed to inspiring and empowering children and youth of all ages in Canada to develop the skills they need to participate and thrive in an ever-changing world.

“It’s the feel of the wind in your hair or the splash of a puddle. It’s hearing birds and noticing buds appearing on trees. By experiencing these things firsthand, curiosity, wonder and appreciation can flourish,” she said.

Here are five ways to introduce the concept of climate change to kids while encouraging a connection with the environment.

1. Keep a climate journal

Climate change is an abstract subject for younger kids, but you can explain that climate is simply the pattern of weather in a certain place over time. It used to be more stable, but in recent years, it has fluctuated in ways we’ve never seen, with extreme weather like storms and unseasonal temperatures becoming more common.

Have them keep a weather journal of the local weather day to day to get a sense of the climate in their area. Add observations like “It was warm every day this week” or “The river is very high, I don’t remember ever having seen it this high before.” For the older kids, discuss different weather measurement tools that are used by meteorologists, such as barometers and hygrometers.

let's talk science
Photo © Let's Talk Science

2. Get in the dirt

Kids can help take care of plants, like vegetables in a garden or flowering plants in pots. Growing and nurturing plants helps children understand that living things have needs and that people have a role to play in helping living things meet those needs. Make connections between climate change and the needs of plants; for example, how hotter temperatures may mean that a plant needs more water. This is also an opportunity to talk about food sustainability and the impacts of agriculture on the environment. Let’s Talk Science has a great project called Tomatosphere™, where you can grow seeds that have been to space!

3. Play some games

Children spend less time engaging in physical play outdoors than they used to. Head outside for a few rounds of tag or a nature scavenger hunt, where you give the kids a list of items to find, like sticks, colourful leaves and rocks. Play “I Spy” to get your kids to associate words with the natural world around them. Language empowers kids to better understand and connect to their environment.

4. Build an outdoor play tool kit

Put together an outdoor tool kit with a magnifying glass, a pair of binoculars, a shovel, and a clear container with a lid or a bucket. These items can help kids find and collect natural specimens to examine.

This is a great time to encourage free play; sometimes, kids need to play without unnecessary restrictions to encourage exploration. If they need ideas for how to bring nature into their outdoor games, try starting with something they are already interested in. This could mean building a mini amusement park using natural materials or collecting natural items to make art with.

Books are also a great way to educate kids on animals and environments beyond their backyards that are affected by climate change. Start with Living in a Warming World: A Book about Canadian Animals and Climate Change, a free-to-download e-book by Let’s Talk Science.

Photo © Courtesy of Let's Talk Science

5. Walk and talk

Go on walks with your kids and, along the way, observe how other members of the community are helping the environment—a commuter riding a bike or a neighbour planting native flowers for the pollinators. Weaving these conversations into daily life helps keep children aware of climate change without fostering fear. For educators in Canada looking to learn more about incorporating other worldviews and Indigenous ways of knowing into climate education, Let’s Talk Science is offering a new series of professional learning opportunities this spring focused on that topic area.

It doesn’t take much to cement a lifelong relationship between children and the natural world, but it helps to start early and be consistent. Kids’ feelings of stewardship and protection for our planet will blossom naturally as they learn to love the outside world. With a little guidance from parents and educators, children who care about the environment will grow into adults who care about the environment. Hopeful adults who believe that they are part of the solution, not the problem.

While celebrating Earth Month this spring visit, letstalkscience.ca/topic/climate-science for more resources on green careers, sustainable agriculture, STEM Storytimes and much more.

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