Guest post from my oldest daughter, who put together this activity about communicating climate change to younger children for one of her Environmental Science classes and wanted to share it with parents who might be looking for ways to start this discussion. Art work was done by my daughter and my preschool age niece.

Climate change is a pressing issue that impacts us all, but it is also complex and can be confusing. This set of activities is designed to teach children about certain impacts of climate change in a simplified way and articulate small actions they can take to lessen their own environmental impacts and contribute to mitigating the climate crisis. It includes art activities meant to maintain interest and engagement. Following the lesson script, the activities take about 30-40 minutes to complete.

(To skip the preamble and see the lesson plan, click here.)

Introduction (For Parents or Educators):

We have all heard about climate change: it’s on the news, and it’s a hot political topic in the modern world. It is easy to feel hopeless about a crisis this all-encompassing, but nonetheless, we have to do something. And that something cannot be to solely rely on advancements in technology as our savior. Ultimately, the climate crisis is a social problem that requires social solutions. Some have come to categorize the climate crisis as a “super wicked problem,” meaning that 1) time is running out, 2) those who cause the problem are the ones implementing a solution, 3) a central authority to address the issue is either weak or nonexistent, and 4) there is irrational discounting of the future that leads to a lack of solutions being implemented now. In order to combat a “super wicked problem,” we need “sticky” solutions, ones that are difficult to wriggle out of when times get tough (Reidy 2013).

Usually, the term “sticky” solution is used in the context of legislation. However, in teaching children about climate change and encouraging them to make small changes in their lives to aid the mitigation cause, we instill values that tend to stay with a child throughout their lives. Therefore, teaching about climate change and mitigation during childhood is, in a way, a sticky solution, and one that could be very helpful in curbing the oncoming climate crisis.

Beyond just teaching about climate change, this lesson/set of activities was designed to promote the four things Anderson (2014, 18-19) determined were vital in order to save the environment: generating genuine care for the environment, encouraging learning, valuing diversity and tolerance, and understanding that we are all in this together. The activities encourage empathy, asking the child to put themselves in the shoes of vulnerable communities. With a focus on glacial melt and sea level rise, the activities draw on the stories of two such vulnerable communities: indigenous people in the Andes Mountains (information retrieved from Bolin 2009) and island communities in the Pacific Ocean (information retrieved from McNamera and Gibson 2009). For more information, check out the works cited at the bottom of the post.

What You’ll Need:

  • A paper coffee filter
  • Washable markers
  •   A spray-bottle
  •   A cup with water
  •   A pitcher to pour more water into the partially full cup
  •   A tape measure or yardstick
  •  A sheet of paper to draw on

The script laid out below is designed for preschool and elementary school children, and with slight alteration can work with any age group. You don’t have to follow the script exactly, but the script is written in a way that is intended to emphasize empathy, and skipping over any of the stories in the script would likely detract from that goal.

Lesson Script:

What is your favorite thing about nature?

Well, we want to make sure that sticks around then, don’t we! That way your friends, family, and people in the future can enjoy it as much as you do! But there are things that we do that hurt the planet might make it so that we can’t enjoy _(insert their answer)_ in the future!

Right now, there are things that we do that are making the planet warmer than usual. It might not feel like it all the time, because it can still be cold outside, but there are places in the world where it is really, really hot even when it is cold for you.

And even if it is not super, super hot outside, there can still be problems! Let’s think about it this way. Is it warm right now? No! We’re inside, so the temperature is comfy; it’s not too hot or too cold. But what happens if we put a piece of ice on the table? Even though it isn’t super hot, the ice will still melt. That’s because ice needs to be cold in order to stay ice.

Okay, now I want you to close your eyes and imagine the BIGGEST piece of ice you can imagine. This ice is just HUGE! Bigger than you! Bigger even than this room! Super, super big. When we have ice that big, we call it a glacier. There are glaciers in some of the coldest parts of the world. But those cold places are getting less cold, and do you remember what happens to ice when it gets less cold? It melts.

(Here’s where I started the first activity. Make sure to use washable markers for this part!)

So we’re going to do a little art project now. This is called a coffee filter. It feels pretty funny, right? It’s really thin paper. But we’re going to use it for our project. First, you have to flatten it out. Once it’s all flat, we can draw on it! Let’s try to draw a glacier. How big would your glacier be? What kind of animals or plants are around your glacier?

(While we draw, continue the conversation.)

It’s pretty hard to imagine that much ice melting, right? But it’s happening right now! Glaciers are melting all over the world, and this makes life really difficult for people who live by the glaciers. For example, there are people that live on some pretty big mountains called the Andes mountains. The Andes mountains also have glaciers on them, but those glaciers are melting pretty fast. The people that live there use water from the glaciers to grow their food and to drink. But because the glaciers are melting so fast, they’re not able to get the water they need to drink and to water their plants. The melting of the glaciers can also cause rock falls, landslides, and floods that make it dangerous to go about their lives. That’s why the glaciers melting is a problem.

Alright, are you done drawing your glacier? Let’s see it!


(Here you can compliment or make comments on their drawing.)

Okay, now we’re going to do something to your drawing to make it look like it’s melting, just like the glaciers. Is that okay?

(If it’s not alright or the kid(s) are hesitant to ‘ruin’ their drawing, have them just scribble something onto a different coffee filter.)

So now we take this spray bottle and carefully spray some water on your drawing until the paper is all wet. See how the lines you made are starting to blur a bit? It’s kind of like your drawing is melting, just like the glaciers! Pretty cool, right? Now we have to let it sit so it can dry.


Okay, let’s think about what happens when ice melts. What does that ice turn into? Right, water. So if lots of ice is melting all over the world, what happens then? Now we have a lot more water. Where does that water go? Eventually, it ends up in the oceans. But the more water you put in the ocean, the higher the ocean goes.

(Here, you can use a visual of a cup to make this point. Make sure the cup has some water in it already, but be ready to add more water to the cup as well.)

It’s like this cup. Right now, there’s some water already in the cup, and that’s fine. But if we pour more water in, like water from melted ice, then the cup might eventually overflow with water. The ocean is just a GIANT cup that can hold a lot more water. If we put too much water in, it will eventually overflow and go onto the land.

So what’s bad about the ocean getting bigger? Well, if it gets too big, it can be a problem for people that live close to the water. Right now, sea level rise is expected to be over two feet in some places by the year 2050. That’s not that far from now! You’ll be _(calculate their age)_ years old then.

(Here, you’ll need the measuring stick or whatever you’re using to measure height).

Let’s compare how tall you are to how much taller the ocean could be in 30 years.

(Measure out two feet either directly against the child or against the wall. If you choose to mark it against the wall, I recommend marking it using a sticky note, but a piece of paper with tape or some other easily removable adhesive works, too.)

So, this is two feet. If you stand next to it, you can see how tall the ocean will be for people that live right by the edge of the ocean. That’s pretty crazy, isn’t it! Imagine having to live your life surrounded by that much water!

(Here is where we start the second art activity.)

Okay let’s get some paper and our art supplies back out, because we’re going to try to draw what our lives would look like if we had to live in that much water. Would you be swimming with some fish? Would you share your lunch with some crabs?

(While we draw, continue the conversation.)

So what we are drawing right now is an imagined version of what life would be like. But if you had to live like that every day, it wouldn’t be very fun. How would we get from place to place? Roads and homes would be flooded.

The situation is even worse for people that live on islands. They have nowhere to go! If we let the ocean overflow too much, their entire island – everything they have ever known – could be forced underwater. Most of the people that live on islands don’t want to leave, though, even if it is safer for them to leave. They are attached to their home land, because that is their land and their culture. Nobody wants to be forced to move. And that’s why we all should try to help stop glaciers melting and ocean levels rising.

Alright, let’s see what you have drawn!


(Here, again, do a show and tell and let them explain what is happening in the picture. Make comments and compliments to encourage and engage them.)

If we want to help stop the glaciers from melting so fast and making the oceans rise so much, what can we do? Well, there are certain small things that you, your friends, and your family can all do to help slow the rate at which the Earth is getting warmer. Do you have any ideas of what you can do?

(Let them answer about things they may already know to do to help protect the planet. Here are some examples you can bring up if they don’t mention it: turning off lights whenever possible, turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth or even washing your hands to prevent the wasting of water, biking or walking instead of riding a car, don’t let food go to waste, use reusable bags when shopping. There are, of course, other actions that adults can take, but there are the easiest for kids to get in on the action.)

Lucky for us, we have two very cool art pieces that we can use as reminders. You can hang one up by a light switch to remind you to turn off the lights when you don’t need them. You can put one by the sink to remember to turn the faucet off whenever possible. Whenever you see your drawings, remember all the things you can do to help protect the planet – and help protect the people we talked about today that are affected most by climate change.

Works Cited:

Anderson, E. N. 2014. “Introduction.” In Caring for Place: Ecology, Ideology, and Emotion in Traditional Landscape Management, edited by E. N. Anderson, 14-47. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

Bolin, Inge. 2009. “The Glaciers of the Andes are Melting: Indigenous and Anthropological Knowledge Merge in Restoring Water Resources.” In Anthropology and Climate Change: From Encounters to Action, edited by S. A. Crate and M. Nuttall, 228-239. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

McNamera, Karen Elizabeth and Chris Gibson. 2009. “‘We do not want to leave our land’: Pacific ambassadors at the United Nations resist the category of ‘climate refugees.’” Geoforum 40: 475-483.

Reidy, Chris. 2013. “Climate Change is a Super Wicked Problem.” Plantcentric (blog). May 28, 2013.

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