Teaching kids about anything is an exciting but challenging task. Not only will your skills at simplifying concepts be tested, but kids can ask the most unexpected questions. However, some important lessons should always be tackled. Such as teaching renewable energy for kids.
As kids become aware of their actions and decisions, they should also learn about the environmental impacts of such actions. This includes the electricity they use, where it comes from, and why they should manage it. These early lessons will also task the creative part of their brains. And who knows, the next innovation or renewable energy invention might come from a young person who still truly believes that anything is possible.
Why do We Need to Teach Kids about Renewable Energy?
Today, 80% of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels4. It is primarily what we use for electricity, heat, and transportation. Fossil fuels are the raw materials for our gas, petrol, diesel, and oil. The problem is, every stage of mining and using these fuels contributes to climate change.
The extraction process of fossil fuel causes both air and water pollution5. In some cases, all the trees and vegetation in a location may be removed to access the materials underground.
The process of refining these materials into usable fuel produces greenhouse gas emissions. These are the gasses which trap heat in our atmosphere, causing global warming. Transporting these fuel and fuel product also contribute to the emission of greenhouse gasses.
And of course, when our cars, homes and factories burn the resulting fuel for heat or electricity further emissions are produced.
Renewable Energy is Growing in Importance
Various types of renewable energy are being explored to tackle the effects and growth of climate change. They include solar energy, wind energy, hydroelectric energy, biomass, and other emerging sources.
These are energy sources which can be used without depleting the resource e.g regardless of how much energy we convert from the sun, our use will not impact its form.
If we do not redirect our energy needs to renewable energy, the predictions for our environment are worrying1. We are expected to experience rising temperatures, heatwaves, droughts, hurricanes, rising sea levels, and more concerning changes. This future being predicted will be lived in by our children today.
Therefore, kids need to learn about renewable energy practices which could potentially salvage their futures. They can grow up with these practices, as opposed to adults who have to adapt.
Also, research shows that when we teach kids about climate change, parents become more climate concerned3. Some adults are resistant to climate education, but parents are usually willing to listen to their children. Educating children about climate change will have a ripple effect on the energy practices of their family. And also of their immediate community.
Teaching Renewable Energy for Kids at Home
When your kids get home from school, the last thing they want is more studying. This does not mean that you should leave all the environment-focused lessons to their teachers. Especially since data has shown that schools are not providing enough of these lessons2.
Like every other life lesson you’ve given them, your kids can learn the practical aspects of renewable energy from you. All you need to do is to integrate renewable energy into their home lives.
Conscious screen time
Online games, YouTube videos, and animations can be used to teach your kids about renewable and non-renewable energy. A good resource is NASA’s Climate Kids page. It has everything from games to videos, mysteries, and activities all on ‘Energy’ as a section. There are other sections dedicated to other environmental concerns available too.
Get them involved in conscious local communities
Both the National Geographic Education and Alliance for Climate Education partner with schools on creating conscious groups for kids. They bring environment-friendly activities to communities and build a local presence there.
Your kids can benefit from being a part of such communities. These alliances usually happen through schools, so ask/encourage your local schools to seek them out.
Have honest conversations with your kids
You don’t need all the science-y words to speak to your kids about renewable energy. Instead, break the topic down to them using casual conversations. Explain how the world has been dependent on non-renewable energy, why we’re thankful for it, and why we need to get off it.
Give details on some of the changes that these energy sources have caused on our environment. Use some of the sources above to find visual representations if needed.
Set a good example
Get your kids interested in energy conservation and renewable energy by bringing these practices into the home. You can’t ask your kids to turn off their lights while leaving yours on. You stand to lose the intended impact. The same applies to renewable energy. For example, share with your kid’s tips to save electricity at home.
If you’re only talking about it, but still fully depend on fossil-fueled sources of energy, they may assume that your environmental concerns aren’t so bad after all.
Teaching Renewable Energy for Kids in School + Resources
This year, NPR/Ipsos conducted a national poll to determine how much climate education students might be getting. Their results showed that less than half of K-12 teachers talk about climate change . Their top reason? Because it’s not related to the subjects they teach.
This reason may apply to you if you’re a non-science teacher. But it doesn’t have to be that way. So here’s how to include renewable energy topics into your lessons, whether you teach math or literature.
Assign reading assignments
If you teach English or a related topic, then reading assignments will be common in your class. As such, you can introduce lessons about renewable energy this way. Besides the books on your lesson plan, select a list of books on renewable energy for your kids to read. You can go through these books firsthand to ensure that they are kid-friendly. You also want to ensure that the students in your class’ age category can fully understand the intended message.
For a start, here are some books to check out:
- The Kids’ Solar Energy Book by Tilly Spetgang and Malcolm Wells
- Brilliant!: Shining a light on sustainable energy by Michelle Mulder
- Oil Spill!: Let’s Read-and-Find-out Science, Stage 2 by Melvin Berger
- The Toy and the Test Drive by Gillian King-Cargile and Kevin Krull
- Growing Up in Coal Country by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, Anna Hymas (Illustrator)
For younger ages, you can read these books in class and have an open discussion on what they are about. Draw lessons and interpret the messages as you go.
Visit a renewable energy plant
Your students can get a first-hand experience of how renewable energy works from a field trip. Schools often organize at least one of these during the school year. As a teacher, you can bring up the suggestion of a trip to a renewable energy plant for a change. There, your students will not only see energy production in action, but they can also find the right answers (from experts) to any questions they may have.
A quick online search will show you renewable energy locations in your city or state. Most of these places have an allowance for visitors interested in learning. They are often willing to educate others using tours, videos, and other information. There’s also the option of virtual tours. IVANPAH, a solar electricity generating plant offers one.
Give a talk
You’ll know never to underestimate the power of your voice and how it can impact younger people. Many people have admitted that their interests and career choices were shaped by a teacher’s talk at one point in their younger ages. Of course, you don’t need expert knowledge to do this.
For example, you can use your personal experiences and speak on some popular issues in the media e.g. polar bears losing their homes. Explain to them how the energy we use affects the environment. Then explain the available solutions, and how we can make the shift to these solutions.
Show a movie
Movies help provide visual illustrations of the things you teach. The words “pollution” and “climate change” may not mean much to a kid who has no idea what those things look like. Seeing these things will make a better impact.
A number of kid-friendly movies exist which you can use to further your renewable energy lessons. Please preview these movies before showing them in class. Here are some recommendations:
- Before the Flood by Fisher Stevens
- Fuel by Josh Tickell
- An Inconvenient Truth by Davis Guggenheim
- The 11th Hour by Leila Conners
- Years of Living Dangerously by James Cameron
Build DIY energy projects together
Reading about renewable energy and how it works can get boring, especially for younger children. Creating small DIY projects for your students to explore is a more hands-on process. There are small scale renewable energy products that you can introduce to class activities or projects. Check out ScienceBuddies and YouTube to find renewable energy project ideas for your kids.
Set the example at school
Schools use a lot of electricity. Keeping the lights one, heating in winter and powering all that learning takes energy. IT also costs a lot of money.
As a teacher concerned about the environment and climate change you can proactively help your school become greener. Consider your school’s energy conversation, looking to ways to save electricity at school.
There are also a number of benefits in your school switching to solar. Still using polluting fossil fuels from the grid at school. Consider making the switch to solar.
Other Sources for Teachers
The NPR/Ipsos national poll shows that more teachers are interested in teaching about climate change and energy . 4 in 5 parents wish they would. For teachers taking their first step into this field, here are some helpful resources to help your students learn. Therefore, these resources will also be helpful for parents who homeschool their child(ren).
- National Geographic’s Education Section
- Alliance for Climate Education
- Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
- Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Biointeractive Classroom Resources
- CLEAN: Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network
- Google’s Your Plan, Your Planet Teaching Guide
- The Morningside Centre for Teaching Social Responsibility K-12 Lessons
We should get kids involved in conversations and practices surrounding renewable energy. The future of the renewable energy system lies with today’s kids- to use, improve, and advance. Of course, by taking the right steps, we can raise a generation that is not yet (and will avoid being) dependent on non-renewable energy. This is, perhaps, the best strategy against the gloomy predictions of the future of the earth.
- 7 Solar Energy Myths – Discussed and Debunked
- Renewable Energy Tips To Help Transition to Cleaner Energy
- Renewable Energy Inventions – Driving Us Forward
- Why Should My School Go Solar?
- Different Types of Renewable Energy
- Advantages of Renewable Energy
Sources & References:
|USGCRP, 2017: Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 470 pp, doi: 10.7930/J0J964J6.|
|NPR Education, 2019: Most Teachers Don't Teach Climate Change; 4 In 5 Parents Wish They Did|
|Children can foster climate change concern among their parents. Danielle F. Lawson, Kathryn T. Stevenson, M. Nils Peterson, Sarah J. Carrier, Renee L. Strnad & Erin Seekamp. Nature Climate Changevolume 9, pages458–462 (2019)|
|World Energy Statistics 2018. IEA. International Energy Agency|
|The Hidden Costs of Fossil Fuels. Union of Concerned Scientists. Revised August 2016|