As an elementary school teacher, this is a question that I know is on the minds of many educators of young children like me. We wonder if the content is too difficult or if we can be certain that what is presented builds a foundation for future learning. And while we may be well-versed in child development and experts in the eyes of a five-year-old, we are not scientists!
While young children may not be ready to understand the complexities of climate science, they are not too young to focus on nature and the world around them. Bringing them closer to the natural world will build a love for people and the planet.
I would begin with nature—explore the outdoors and choose a topic or lesson that you know will interest your students. For example, you can investigate trees, butterflies, or flowers that can be spotted in your schoolyard or neighborhood. Allow children to ask questions about the habitat that surrounds them and what may be changing. Include domain-specific vocabulary words (e.g., chrysalis, pollinator, bark, limb, pollen, etc.) to build the foundation for future environmental lessons. Let children talk about what they see.
My students and I often visit our school garden and notice what has changed and what remains the same. I encourage my students to ask “Why?” when interacting with the natural world. Try taking a moment before students leave your classroom to look out a window—there is always so much to see when we stop to look!
It is also important to model wondering about our planet and thinking about ways to help. Share your curiosities about the world and encourage your students to do the same. Talk about what you see, think, and do in your classroom or home. Provide students with the opportunity to ideate ways that they too can care for our planet—at home and at school (e.g., save energy, reuse items, reduce waste, etc.).
Fostering a culture of love and stewardship for our planet is a necessary building block in climate education. Even the youngest of learners will understand the importance of protecting our only home.
About the Author: Elaine Makarevich
My name is Elaine, and I am fortunate to live and teach in rural northwestern New Jersey. Family is important to me and so is my teaching career. I have been blessed to be able to dedicate my life to both during my 29-year teaching career. Spanning nearly three decades, my teaching assignments have included all subject areas (grades K, 2, and 3), ELA (grade 4), Spanish instruction (K-6), Gifted & Talented Services Coordinator/Teacher, School-wide Enrichment Coordinator/Teacher, and Schoolyard Garden Coordinator. Teaching is truly a joy and a blessing in my life—it has allowed me to make a difference to many while being present in the moments of my own children's lives. Our school garden motto sums up my career: "By the children, for the children."