Happy Earth Day! Or, is it? It’s hard, impossible even, to talk about Earth Day in the classroom without getting into discussions about global warming, drought, and even students’ personal stories about extreme weather events. Climate change is overwhelming for adults to process and it’s having a profound effect on today’s young people.
According to a study in The Lancet, Gen Z are among the most concerned generation when asked about climate change, with “three in four young people [saying] the future is frightening, while nearly half said their feelings about climate change negatively impact their daily life.”
So what’s a teacher to do when Earth Day rolls around and climate dread preoccupies students? Here are some tips for tackling Earth Day discussions with compassion, action, and maybe, maybe even a little bit of fun.
1. Acknowledge students’ anxiety around climate change.
Students get most of their information on climate change from social media. When students are receiving information from social media, they don’t often have the benefit of a trusted adult right next to them, providing context, reassurance, or correcting misinformation. Talking about climate change in school provides young people a safe environment to have difficult conversations with trusted adults and among their peers. Earth Day can be a good time to have these discussions and talk about their anxieties, while providing some positive solutions for action.
Use these resources to help navigate tough conversations:
2. Use students’ anger about climate change to motivate action.
Students are mad that older generations have failed to address some of the same issues that the founders of Earth Day were trying to bring attention to in the 1970s–the importance of clean air and water, protections for animals and land, and more. Britt Wray, a leading author and researcher on climate change and mental health says that “anger can be hugely motivating.” While Gen Z are among the most concerned about climate change, they’re also the most engaged in actions to combat climate change on and offline, according to a PEW Research study. Students want to learn more about climate change in schools, so join them, and give them the tools they need to take action.
Let students read about how they can take action:
3. Inspire students through stories about their peers.
Sharing stories about your students’ peers can help motivate them to engage with content about climate change and Earth Day. As mentioned above, Gen Z are the most active generation when it comes to taking action on climate change. Tackling one problem or one project at a time can help make a global issue like climate change seem smaller and more manageable. You can use stories about young people who were able to affect change, as mirrors for your students to see what’s possible.
Assign small groups to read about their peers and report back to the class:
4. Foster a love of our planet.
Earth Day isn’t all doom and gloom! The wonders of the world never cease to amaze, and bringing students up-close and personal with the intricacies of our planet and the fascinating biology happening right outside will foster an appreciation for our environment. Teaching students about the preciousness of the Earth can make their commitment to learning about our planet, and doing their part to save it, even stronger.
Bring nature right into the classroom with virtual field trips:
Creating the next generation of eco-conscious citizens
Earth Day is celebrated on April 22nd because a man-made disaster spurred a movement for environmental activism. We hope the resources above will help you honor the history of Earth Day in your class while meeting the needs of today’s students who are uniquely affected by and interested in addressing climate change.
For more on Earth Day, check out our Earth Day 2023 Text Set!