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 renewable energy for kids.
As kids become aware of their actions and decisions, they should also learn about the environmental impacts of such activities. This includes how we generate 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.
Today, 80% of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels. 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 that every stage of mining and using these fuels contributes to climate change.
The extraction process of fossil fuels causes both air pollution and water pollution. In some cases, the industry may remove all the trees and vegetation in a location to access the materials underground.
Refining these materials into usable fuels such as natural gas and petrol produces greenhouse gas emissions. Transporting these fuels and fuel products also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. These gasses trap heat in our atmosphere, causing global warming.
And, of course, further emissions are produced when our cars, homes, and factories burn the resulting fuel for heat or electricity.
Various types of renewable energy are being explored to tackle the effects and growth of climate change. They include solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, geothermal energy, and other emerging sources.
We can use these renewable energy sources 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 worrying2. We expect 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, unlike 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 families. And also of their immediate community.
When your kids get home from school, the last thing they want is more studying. This does not mean you should leave all the environment-focused lessons to their teachers, especially since data has shown that schools are not providing enough of these lessons1.
Like every other life lesson you've given, your kids can learn the practical aspects of renewable energy from you. All you need to do is to integrate renewable energy into your home lives.
Online games, YouTube videos, and animations can 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 on 'Energy' as a section. There are other sections dedicated to other environmental concerns available too.
Both the National Geographic Education and Alliance for Climate Education partner with schools to create 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.
You don't need all the science-y words to teach your kids about renewable energy. Instead, break the topic down to them using casual conversations. Explain how the world has depended 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 these energy sources have caused in our environment. Use some of the sources above to find visual representations if needed.
Also, whereas few would argue about the advantages of renewable energy, present a balanced view. For example, the environmental impacts of hydropower can wipe out large amounts of land home to a range of animal and plant life. While the environmental impacts of solar energy also include the manufacture and disposal of solar panels, which proves less environmentally friendly than the clean energy solar produces.
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 kids' tips to save electricity at home.
If you're only talking about it but still fully depend on fossil-fueled energy sources, they may assume that your environmental concerns aren't so bad after all.
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 in your lessons, whether you teach math or literature.
Reading assignments will be common in your class if you teach English or a related topic. 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 (amazon) by Tilly Spetgang and Malcolm Wells
Brilliant!: Shining a light on sustainable energy (amazon) by Michelle Mulder
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.
Your students can experience how renewable energy works firsthand 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 correct 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 power plant, offers one.
Many kids find how we produce electricity fascinating. With the growth in wind turbines dotting our landscapes and solar power panels in everything from large-scale installations to solar device chargers, kids have more visibility of how we create electricity. Spending time satisfying their curiosity by exploring the ills of burning fossil fuels and the wins in renewable alternative energy can only support a cleaner planet.
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. You'll know never to underestimate the power of your voice and how it can impact younger people.
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.
Furthermore, with increased moves to renewable sources, employment in the renewable energy sector is set to grow. In 2019 11.5 million people worked in renewable energy, and more will follow as we accelerate net zero initiatives. Teachers and parents can help prepare kids for this growing sector by inviting experts to inspire them. Who knows, one of your attendees may invent the next wave energy or green power innovation.
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 that you can use to further your renewable energy lessons. Please preview these movies before showing them in class. Here are some recommendations:
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. Some go as far as helping them understand how solar cells work or how to produce energy from the water or wind.
Schools use a lot of electrical energy. Keeping the lights on, 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 for ways to save electricity at school.
There are also many benefits to your school switching to solar. Still using polluting fossil fuels from the grid at school. Consider making the switch to solar.
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. Here are some helpful resources for teachers taking their first step into this field to help their students learn. Therefore, these resources will also benefit parents who homeschool their child(ren).
The future of the renewable energy system lies with today's kids- to use, improve, and advance. We should get kids involved in conversations and practices surrounding renewable energy. Of course, by taking the proper 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 earth's future.
|NPR Education, 2019: Most Teachers Don't Teach Climate Change; 4 In 5 Parents Wish They Did|
|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.|
|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)|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.