Activities That'll Teach Your Toddler About Climate Change
It’s never too early to start teaching your child about our changing world. And the more they know about how human activity is changing that world, the more prepared they’ll be to do something about it.
Action starts with understanding. Here are some climate change activities for toddlers that you can do with your little scientist.
1. The Greenhouse Effect Activity
The Greenhouse Effect is one of the fundamental ideas of climate change.
A greenhouse allows sunlight inside, but doesn’t allow heat to escape. Similarly, our atmosphere allows in the sun’s light, but keeps the heat in. In simple terms, this is the cause of global warming.
You can teach your toddler this very simple climate change lesson using two thermometers and a glass jar.
Place one thermometer inside the jar, and set the jar in a sunny place. Set the other thermometer next to the jar. Wait for 20 minutes, then come back and compare the temperatures.
The temperature inside the jar will be hotter, because the glass is keeping some of the sun’s heat from escaping.
Older kids may enjoy learning about the greenhouse effect by making a terrarium.
2. Air Quality Check
Air pollution and emissions from fossil fuels are a driving force of global warming. Pollutants and the burning of fossil fuels create so-called ‘greenhouse gasses’ like methane and carbon dioxide.
That’s pretty complicated for a toddler to understand. But air pollution isn’t difficult to see, if you know how to look.
You can gather your own air pollution samples with a few things you might already have at home:
- Wooden block, a brick, or any heavy object
- Plastic wrap
- Petroleum jelly
- Duct tape
- Plain white paper
- First, wrap the plastic wrap around the block or brick, and secure it with the duct tape.
- Next, spread a thin layer of petroleum jelly over one side of the plastic-wrapped block.
- Now, place the block, jelly side up, outside in an area with good air circulation. Sticking it to a wall is even better.
- Let the block sit for at least 24 hours, then bring it inside.
- Lay the plastic on the paper, jelly side down. You should see small pieces of collected particles.
- Explain to your toddler that the air is filled with particles, some of which are polluted, and that when we breathe these in, it isn’t good for our health.
- You can place similar sensors in different places (indoors and outdoors, high and low, at home, school, and work, etc.) and compare the results.
Older kids can learn more about the greenhouse gasses from these free and child friendly printables from NASA.
Rising Sea Levels Activity
One of the devastating effects of climate change is rising sea levels.This easy activity from NASA demonstrates both how sea levels rise, and the fact that sea ice melts faster than land ice.
What you’ll need:
- Two clear plastic containers of the same size
- Cold water
- Ice cubes
- Clay, play dough, or rocks
- A pen or marker
- A ruler
- Use the clay, play dough, or rocks to form ‘land’ areas in both of your containers. The land areas should cover about one quarter of the bottom of the container and be one to two inches high.
- Now, place ice cubes on the ‘land’ in one of the containers. This is your ‘land ice’ container.
- In the other container (your ‘sea ice’ container), place the same number of ice cubes at the bottom of the container.
- Add the same amount of water to both containers, and mark the water level with your pen.
- Come back at regular intervals (for example, every five minutes) to check the water level and how much ice has melted. Write down your observations.
- Discuss the following with your toddler:
- Which melts faster, sea ice or land ice?
- How does melting ice affect the water levels?
- How do the changing water levels affect the land?
- How might this affect people, plants, or animals living on the land?
4. The ‘Real’ Carbon Footprint Activity
The ‘carbon footprint’ is the amount of carbon that a person’s individual activities release into the atmosphere. It’s never too early to talk to your little one about how our actions affect others and affect the planet. Try the following activity to help them grasp this complicated concept:
- Paint the bottom of your child’s foot with non-toxic paint. Have them make a footprint on a piece of paper. Have fun with this!
- Talk about different things that can make that footprint larger or smaller, such as:
- Flying on an airplane
- Driving the car
- Ordering products for delivery or online
- Leaving the lights on when you don’t need them
- Recycling and reuse
- Composting food waste
- Using renewable energy
Climate Activism for Kids
It’s never too early to teach your little one about climate change and sustainability! The book Greta and the Giants is a picture book about Greta Thunberg. Learn about Greta’s climate strike, or make your own signs to take to kid-friendly local events. Even young children can get involved.
The Future is in Their Hands
Kids love learning about plants, animals, and different ecosystems. Understanding how ecosystems work will make it easier to understand the climate crisis…and you never know, this knowledge may lead to some creative solutions!