Learning about climate change

Climate change is a broad topic which can be tricky to understand. The impacts of climate change and ways in which we can all help to reduce the climate change effect is important for us all to learn, but did you know you can make learning about it fun, as well as informative?  

Net Zero Officer, Alice, shares five fun activities to explore with children. 

 

Activity 1: The Greenhouse Effect

What you will need: 

  • A blanket 
  • A globe (or an image of Earth) 
  • A yellow ball (to represent the Sun, or an image of the Sun)  

Have one child holding the globe, one child holding the yellow ball and one child holding the blanket. The child holding the yellow ball should be directing it towards the globe.

Explain that the Sun is essential to life on planet Earth. The atmosphere traps some of the Sun’s rays, whilst some of the Sun’s rays are reflected into space, so Earth is just the right temperature for life (this is known as the greenhouse effect). However, increased greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, generated through human activities such as manufacturing, transport and agriculture, are causing the atmosphere to thicken, acting like a blanket around Earth.  

Have the child with the blanket wrap it around the child with the globe. Ask how does the blanket make you feel? Discuss that we wrap ourselves in blankets to feel warm/hot.

This is causing the temperature of planet Earth to heat up. The increase in global temperature is causing climates to change across the world; some places are experiencing droughts and more extreme heatwaves and wildfires; some places are experiencing floods and more extreme storms. It is also affecting many of Earth’s habitats, including oceans, which are heating up and becoming more acidic, causing coral bleaching and threats to ocean species.  

You could then try the experiment on pages 6-7 of the STEM resource ‘Earth under the lid’ to explore the greenhouse effect further. You might like to extend this further by using a third jar with an extra layer of cling film.  

 

Activity 2: Energy Saving Home Audit

What you will need: 

  • An energy audit sheet (below) 
  • A pencil 
  • A clipboard (optional) 

Ask your child/children what uses energy in our house? You may have answers like heating (usually gas or oil) and electricity (lights, television, microwave, fridge, and many more!) Use the energy audit sheet to complete an energy audit of your home, to see what steps can be taken to save energy in the home. Explain that by taking steps to reduce energy usage, such as switching lights off, will help reduce carbon emissions as less fossil fuel will need to be burned in order to generate energy (used to create electricity or heat your home), and therefore contribute to combatting climate change.

After your child/children have completed the energy audit sheet, they could write an action plan for how your home could save more energy or place stickers or posters around your house to remind everyone to switch things off (if you don’t mind having artwork on display!)

Energy Saving Audit

Put a tick in the boxes that answer yes for each of the rooms. You could edit the energy audit sheet to better suit your home or add more questions to the list.

Items to CheckKitchenBathroomLiving RoomBedroom OneBedroom Two
Are lights switched off?
Is the television left on standby?
Has the games console been left on?
Could we open the curtains/blinds to make use of natural light?
Is the heating on? Could we turn it off/down?
Have windows/doors been left open?
Do we have any draught excluders?
Are radiators blocked by furniture?

More Activities

Activity 3: Polar Bear Game  

What you will need: 

  • Tarpaulin or a picnic blanket 
  • Paper polar bear masks (optional) 
  • A group of children 
  • A large space (outside may be best!) 

This game simulates the melting of the polar ice caps due to climate change. It is a bit like musical chairs in that the last child to get to the tarpaulin in each round is out! Lay the tarpaulin out on the ground. This is the ice cap. Have the children (polar bears) ‘swimming’ around the tarpaulin ‘hunting’ for fish. When you shout night-time, the children must quickly get a space on the tarpaulin. When you shout day-time, the children can ‘swim’ around again. When the children are ‘swimming’, fold the tarpaulin to make it a bit smaller. Shout night-time, this time one child (or polar bear) won’t be able to fit on the tarpaulin (ice cap). Ask why might the polar ice cap have shrunk? Accept one answer from a child to do with a human activity that causes climate change (e.g., energy wastage from leaving a light on, having the heating on and windows open at the same time, leaving the television on standby, etc). Once you have received an answer, get the children to ‘swim’ around again. Fold the tarpaulin again and keep repeating this until there is only one child (polar bear) left. Explain that polar bears and other animal are becoming endangered and even extinct due to their habitats being lost as a result of climate change.  

 

Activity 4: Plant a Seed 

What you will need: 

  • Soil/compost (peat free) 
  • Water 
  • A pot (with drainage holes) 
  • A seed (preferably a tree seed) 
  • Small stones 

Explain that the natural world can help us to fight climate change. Forests, wetlands, oceans, peatlands and many more landscapes/habitats are great at storing and absorbing carbon dioxide (one of the main greenhouse gases). Unfortunately, when these landscapes/habitats become degraded or destroyed they release the carbon stored, which contributes to climate change. But where these landscapes/habitats are preserved and enhanced they can store and absorb carbon dioxide, helping to reduce the effects of climate change.  

Plant a tree seed with your child/children to create their own carbon store. As the seed grows into a seedling it will be taking in carbon dioxide. If you can, plant your tree into the ground once it is larger, and then it will continue to absorb and store more and more carbon. There is lots of information online about ‘the right tree in the right place’. After around age 35, a tree’s ability to take in more carbon begins to plateaux, though the timings of this vary between different tree species.  

Follow the link to the Woodland Trust for more advice on growing a tree from seed, including how to plant your seed and a list of native tree seeds you could use. 

 

Activity 5: Visit Northumberland National Park 

Spend some time with your children out in Northumberland National Park, and see trees and other carbon stores found in the landscape.  

Studies have revealed that children who experience nature and play in the great outdoors will have a greater respect for the natural world in adulthood. Other studies have revealed the positive role of nature in supporting well-being for children and adults alike.  

For more information and ideas, visit the links below: