How to talk to kids of different ages to engage them on climate change and environmental issues

I am starting a series of blog posts aimed at children and parents about climate change. But first I wanted to start with a look at what type of topics and content are appropriate for children of different ages. bdjloph78m8-samantha-sophia.jpgThis working document combines my own research and other writers’ work, especially inspired by a well-written recent article in the The Atlantic. It is also inspired by passionate and engaging teenage climate activists from the @ThisIsZeroHour movement and other movements. I have tried to present here the key points I have discovered around the current thinking on age-appropriateness with some suggestions for appropriate content. I hope this overview can act as a guide for parents and teachers regarding how to talk to children about climate change. Initially, for very young children, it is enough to foster an interest in our natural world and its creatures, to nourish their sense of caring for the Earth they will inherit. I would appreciate feedback from climate educators, kindy, primary and secondary school teachers in Australia (or elsewhere) as well as environmental psychologists.

As I have found myself, the journalist Michelle Nijhuis argues in a recent article in The Atlantic that the majority of climate-change education materials “focus on how to explain climate change” but rarely focus on “when and why teachers ought to discuss climate change in class”, that is, when are kids actually ready, “intellectually and emotionally” to engage with various aspects of climate change science and more specifically the implications of how their futures may be affected.

She asks “what, exactly, do we want kids to learn from their first lessons about climate change?”

Do elementary students (ages 4-11 in the USA) really need to learn that “the sea ice is melting and polar bears are starving” or are we prematurely burdening them with our own worries that they aren’t yet ready to take on?

For children under 12, she suggests referring to global warming as “a kind of pollution” that “a lot of people are working on fixing”, an explanation that satisfies her daughter’s curiosity.  Children are likely to hear the terms “global warming” and “climate change” elsewhere so such simple and empowering explanations may be important to have on hand.

The work of David Sobel offers what could be a good framework for considering when and how to present climate science (and climate advocacy). Neighbourhood maps drawn by children aged 4-15 were used to draw out ways in which they engaged with their environment. The children, from diverse countries including USA, UK and the Caribbean, all imagined themselves in ”close, knowable worlds.”

I have combined my own research with the insights of David Sobel and Michelle Nijhuis to summarise what I think makes for age-appropriate environmental and climate content for engaging kids. These suggestions are listed below. The presentation of potentially scary information on climate change and its likely impacts may not be appropriate for children 11 and under. However parents and teachers can use their own judgement and the lead of the children’s curiosity to guide what they present. 

Summary of child development stages and suggested topics to foster a sense of connection with and care of the environment and nature, and, when appropriate, climate change:  

Kids aged 1 to 3:

Kids under 4 weren’t studied by David Sobel for the neighbourhood drawing study (that I know of) but I know from my own experience observing my 4-year-old daughter’s kindy class that she can accept that we need to protect fish from plastic pollution (they made paper plate glitter fish and dangled plastic bags off them after a sea life touch and feel class with live sea stars, sea cucumbers and a baby shark). On ABC kids television, Australian content for pre-kindy kids shown here in Queensland include Peppa Pig presenting recycling as a matter of fact way to sort our garbage. The Octonauts rescue sea creatures from various dangers in the sea. In Charlie and Lola, Lola becomes passionate about helping to protect endangered pandas. Solutions focused, action oriented engagement is presented. Kids can be heroes. I also love this cute song about sharks that lets kids connect with their inner shark, instilling a love of sharks!

Suggested topics for kids aged 1-3 include: amazing animals, amazing nature, gardening, plastic pollution, saving water for fish etc. possibly climate change as pollution.

Kids aged 4 to 7:

Children aged 4 to 7 drew their maps with their homes filling up the centre. Children also often describe, and feel protective of, the creatures that live in their gardens or their blocks.

Suggested topics for kids aged 4 to 7 include: amazing animals, amazing nature, gardening, plastic pollution, saving water and resources, etc. for fish etc., endangered animals, possibly climate change as pollution.

Kids aged 8 to 11:

Kids ages 8 to 11 drew their homes as smaller elements, often on the margins of their maps. Maps included elements of the children’s “explorable landscape”of forests and neighbourhoods.

Suggested topics for kids aged 8 to 11 include: amazing animals, amazing nature, gardening, plastic pollution and resource use minimisation, with the addition of climate change as pollution and what to do about it.

Kids aged 12 to 15:

Kids aged 12 to 15 drew maps of greater scope that were more abstract, but still anchored in familiar, often social places. Less focus was on forests and more on social places like malls, town parks, and places downtown to eat lunch.

Suggested topics for kids aged 12 to 15 include: amazing animals, amazing nature, gardening, plastic pollution and resource use minimisation, climate change as pollution and what to do about it, with additional material: ocean acidification, rising seas, extreme weather, impacts on people and what to do about it. Let them know about the inspiring children and adults working to make change. One good resource I have found that presents climate change as simple, serious and solvable is the Alliance for Climate Education 

Nijhaus suggests that for kids in the 12 to 15 years age group “climate change had become part of their explorable landscape—and they were ready to face it.” She makes this claim based on her experience talking to them and their excited questioning while they were working on a student film about recent climate exacerbated wildfires.

Kids aged 16+:

Kids aged 16+ were not studied by David Sobel that I know of, however I am well aware of young teenage activists such as those involved with Zero Hour who are assuming climate leadership rolls for their peers.  

Suggested topics for kids aged 16+ include: amazing animals, amazing nature, gardening, plastic pollution and resource use minimization, climate change as pollution and what to do about it, +ocean acidification, rising seas, extreme weather, impacts on people and what to do about it.  Let them know about the inspiring children and adults working to make change. As mentioned above, a good resource is available via the Alliance for Climate Education which presents climate change as simple, serious and solvable 

I have summarised these suggested topics into a table of age appropriate environmental and climate topics for kids, so you can see my suggestions at a glance. The ideas suggested in the table are based on the Michelle Nijhaus article, David Sobel’s Neighbourhood maps, kids TV that my kids like, observation of my children’s kindy programs, interviews with ACE educators and the Zero Hour activist kids.

Enviro and Climate Topics for Kids - Age Appropriate copy

Further thoughts, part 1:

Sunni Tang from the Alliance for Climate Education ( and Emelly Villa, a 17-year-old activist involved with the forthcoming @Zero Hour march ( recommend starting at any age to teach about climate change. Emelly stresses making it age appropriate. She says “It’s a lot harder to grasp what climate change really is at a young age, so I would start by teaching them about endangered species and use a hands-on approach. Then as they get older, start including much more of the scientific research on climate change and also teach them to speak out about the topic as it will have an impact on their future.” Sunni Tang from the Alliance for Climate Education tells me “When our young people communicate about climate change, they always tie the story of climate change back to their own personal experiences of how climate change threatens something they love.” And this approach is perhaps more accessible to young people at any age. She says “It’s never too early to have the talk about climate change. Climate change isn’t just a science issue, it’s a human justice issue and the fight for climate justice is a fight for values such as equity, justice, and sustainable living.”


Emelly Villa 

Further thoughts, part 2: Suggestions for parents taking part in front-line, non-violent, direct climate action:

During a presentation I gave on this topic for Citizens’ Climate Lobby Australia, I was asked a question by a mother of a 2-year-old boy, who was taking action on the front lines of climate action (civil disobedience or non-violent direct action). She asked for ideas on how she could best protect her young son from any harm to his current and future mental health while she was taking action like this. Here I want to share my answer and some additional insights.

Firstly, as we can see above, in David Sobel’s research into how children draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, he highlights how young children have views of the world that focus on their home and family, and on special creatures they see in their gardens and close to home. So I suggested that rather than talking to her son about the broader topic of climate change, she can make it personal and comprehendible to him. She can let him know that she is working to protect some iconic species that he loves, or perhaps one that lives in the vicinity of where she is taking action. Perhaps a special frog or a bird, something the young son is interested in. He needs a sense that he is loved, cared for and safe. With this in mind I want to recommend an Australian author who writes on how to nourish and care for our children’s healthy mental development, Steve Biddulph. Through his books “Raising Boys” and “Raising Girls” he offer insights into how can protect and nourish our children, and protect ourselves, as parents for their mental development. Another online audience member,  during my presentation, put it beautifully to the mother “your son will be fine as long as you practice self-care”.


Authors note:

The above age appropriate content suggestions are part of my own interpretation of the information on climate change and child development. I am not a child development expert, I am a science communicator and a mother passionate about protecting our climate and our kids. So I hope you find this information useful, but you may wish to speak with your child’s teachers to get more insights into how to positively engage them in caring for their habitat, planet Earth. Thank you to everyone who has offered me feedback on this article so far.


My presentation on talking to kids about climate and environment for Citizens’ Climate Lobby Australia:

David Sobel Neighbourhood map making with children:

How I Talk to My Daughter About Climate Change
Michelle Nijhuis

Alliance for Climate Education:

Zero Hour:
Youth Climate March Washington DC July 21 2018

Other links:

Talking about climate change is very important:

Project Drawdown 100 best solutions to reverse global warming:

Project Drawdown EcoChallenge by the North West Earth Institute:

Parachutes for the planet (for kids of any age):

Principles of Climate Literacy: outline of major concepts and subconcepts that can be adapted as appropriate for each age:

NAAEE and NWF Climate Change Education guidelines. Suggests starting Climate Change education in Grade 4.

NASA’s Climate Kids resource:

Slides + video from my presentation: How to talk to kids of different ages to engage them on climate change and environmental issues:

My article for kids 12+ about adults and children who are protecting the climate for the future. “Dear kids, I am an adult working to protect your safe, liveable planet. And I just want to say… hello…”:


Image credits: Samantha Sophia via Unsplash and Emelly Villa courtesy of


About the author:

Dr Heidi Edmonds is an ecologist / environmental engineer with a PhD in freshwater ecology who is currently a freelance research scientist while raising two young children. As a science communicator and a mother, she is especially interested in making climate science and climate action accessible, simple and easy to understand for more people. Check out her blog at (



Drawdown EcoChallenge Thanks, Links and Wrap up

Congratulations to Asheville High School! This team of young teenage change makers and their teachers won the EcoChallenge​! Congratulations also to all the other winners! And all the other participants! Let’s keep making change happen! Thanks EcoChallenge​ for a fun, educational, challenging and motivating time!

Our team came it at #43 out of 767 teams. Not bad for a little Australian group of eco minded friends.

Our team shared their stories on the Drawdown EcoChallenge page (where other teams also shared their great ideas and inspiring learnings). I shared our team’s collective stories as blog posts on Facebook. I’ve linked to all the Facebook blog posts so you can relive the fun and excitement below:

I personally spent up to 60 minutes learning about drawdown solutions to reverse global warming (micro wind, educating girls, proper disposal of refrigerants, food choices that limit deforestationthe importance of air to composting for reducing methane, the value of walkable cities and the value of reducing water leakages in city piping). I consumed 28 meatless or vegan meals, developed much better habits in regards to using less plastic, and contacted public officials about one issue (walkable cities). I also reflected on the value of the three-weeks the EcoChallenge runs over, as that is how long it takes to form new habits.

I loved learning more about barriers globally to women’s representation that Jess presented, along with her entertaining stories about shoe repairs, storage of soft plastics, and conversations about food waste with friends. Thanks to Ingela and Jess for some great suggestions about carbon offsetting our flights. Thanks to Jessie for a poignant piece about ecological grief and the need to protect and value our natural wonders. Thanks to Simone and Annie for logging your actions while some other team members fell by the wayside. (It is a challenge right! To make these changes while juggling busy lives! 🙂 ) Thanks to Nell, Julie (my mum!) and Fflur for some great vegan and vegetarian food ideas. Thanks to Fflur for reminding us to scrunch our Easter egg wrappers in a ball before recycling. Big thanks to my mum for sticking with the challenge even while on holiday in Hawaii, and for sharing some insights into solar power installation in town houses! Thanks to Eve for getting her amazing Hope-Suds​ soaps in on the action and to Gillian for a great reminder about the fun of micro lending and watching how a seemingly small donation might make someone else’s business idea on the other side of the world fly!

As a team here are our stats: up to 40 locally sourced meals consumed, up to 1 donations made, up to 5 public officials contacted, up to 15 conversations with people, up to 4 people helped, up to 1 documentaries watched, up to 5708 pounds CO2 saved. up to 45 gallons water saved, up to 385 minutes spent learning, up to 173 meatless or vegan meals consumed. 🙂 Yay us!

Finally, I made my first video for the planet. i.e. not a music video. As part of the EcoChallenge’s “unselfieme” challenge. Here it is. Why I did the EcoChallenge:

Project Drawdown EcoChallenge 4-25 April! Want to join me?

Hello friends, as you would know if you read my blog, I am very inspired by the work that Project Drawdown has done in presenting the 100 best solutions to reverse global warming. Did you know that in April, Project Drawdown is presenting the Project Drawdown EcoChallenge ( It runs from 4-25 April and anyone from across the world can join in. Its a great opportunity to engage with some of the best solutions for reversing global warming such as reducing food waste and supporting the education of girls, while also having the chance to connect with others inspired to make change across the globe. I’ve set up a team called Climate KISS Australia and I’d love you to join me ( – just click on” join this team” or search for climate kiss in the list of teams – the password for this team is “solutions”). My goal is simple: to encourage others to join in and make a difference while learning more about the exciting ways we can help care for our climate (many of which also help our communities and economies now). Tasks can be as simple as serving smaller portions of food to reduce food waste, or could involve making a small donation to help educate girls around the world. Personally I hope to undertake one task from each of the seven key groups of solutions (electricity generation, food, women and girls, buildings and cities, land use, transport and materials). Let’s do this. 🙂 heidi

PS Thanks to everyone who has signed up so far! Thanks to some super cool cats for also inviting their friends to join our group. We are up to…17 team members and its only 24 March. 11 days til the official start!! ❤

PPS I will be posting updates here on my blog, on Facebook, and on the Climate Kiss EcoChallenge team page.

PPPS the password for our team is “solutions”

Planetary health – why reversing global warming is essential for human health

Aussie GP, Dr Tammra Warby wrote a guest post for Climate K.I.S.S. a little while ago. In this latest post we put her medical perspective together with my environmental science and engineering perspective to write about planetary health, and the links between climate change, ecosystem health and human health. We then talk about some of the key solutions to reverse global warming.

Planetary Health – Why reversing global warming is essential for human health

Tammra Warby and Heidi Edmonds

Planetary health is an area of study that considers both ecosystem health and human health in tandem, with the focus on how they are mutually impacted by a changing climate. Here, environmental scientist Heidi Edmonds and Tammra Warby, an Australian medical doctor, share what they’ve learned from scholars and advocates of planetary health and the simple health and cost-saving solutions that start to restore it.

Ideas connecting climate change and human health have been around for many years, but it was a report presented by The Lancet Commission  in 2015 that specifically introduced the concept of planetary health. One of the overarching principles presented in this report was that “human health depends on flourishing natural systems and the wise stewardship of those natural systems”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling the effects of climate change on human health the “Greatest Health Threat of the 21st Century,” and is advocating urgently for the protection of planetary health. The basics of human survival include water, food and air, all of which are affected by ecosystem health and climate. As the population expands, there will be an increasing burden placed on finite planetary resources such as freshwater and land, especially for the raising of livestock. Already only 0.3% of the world’s freshwater is available for human use and up to 70% of it goes towards use in agriculture. According to the CSIRO MegaTrends report, serious health impacts will be felt by the next generation in the form of water scarcity and reduced food security.Brisbane Riverside Explore Heidi Edmonds

The impact of environmental pollution and global warming on human health is already evident. In the WHO report “Preventing Disease through Health Environments” it was shown that in 2012 approximately 12.6 million people died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment. The Australian Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) have spearheaded the development of A Framework for a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Wellbeing for Australia to increase disaster readiness, improve carbon emissions from the healthcare sector, raise awareness within the community and support health professionals in recognising, preparing for and responding to the health impacts of climate change.

To reduce the impacts on human health, we must keep warming of the global mean surface temperature to 2°C as the Paris Agreement calls for, or preferably the aspirational 1.5°C. It may not sound like much, but will make an exponential difference to our global climate system and thus to human health. The world has already warmed by around 1.1°C since the late 19th Century. Based on current emissions, we will reach 2°C of warming by 2036 if we continue with a business as usual approach.

At that level, global yields of crops and freshwater supplies will reduce and heat wave duration will increase, impacting the next generation. If we head towards 4°C, large parts of the world, especially the tropics, are likely to become unliveable for humans due to heat stress and other factors. Sea levels would rise by up to a metre by 2100, flooding many cities. Children born today who will be in their 80s in 2100, (when a 4°C rise is predicted for, if we don’t globally get our acts into gear), could see riots in the street over food and suffer the threat of extreme heat stress while witnessing growing inequality and social unrest. With such short time frames, you can see why leading climate voices are calling for major intervention over the next few years.

Fortunately, we can personally reduce our carbon footprint and improve our health at the same time. For example, riding a bike, increasing the plant-based portion of our diet and reducing meat intake (with 1 in 6 bowel cancers also caused by excessive red meat intake) does both. Besides these changes we should all conduct an energy audit of our home and buy carbon offset when flying. A recent project, “Drawdown” prioritises 100 of the best ways to reverse global warming with available technology. The top 10 (that also have potential to save us money) include reducing our food waste and utilising rooftop solar.

Sandgate mudflats - clean - Heidi EdmondsHelping to raise awareness of the need to protect our planetary health is a powerful way to make a difference. Sharing posts by One Million Women is a great place to start. Volunteering with Citizens’ Climate Lobby Australia is a great way to meet other people who care about a safe climate, and to help advocate and build political will for accelerating climate solutions. If you are passionate about protecting planetary health, you can visit CAHA and lobby your local politician about adopting the proposed National Strategy. Another organisation raising awareness of the vital relationship between health and climate change, Doctors for the Environment Australia, are part of a new national call for a high-level National Sustainability Commission, which you could also consider writing in support of. If we all make small changes they will add up and increase the likelihood of rapidly reversing global warming for a sustainable and healthy climate for future generations. Climate change isn’t something far off that we can’t influence. It’s here, it’s urgent, and there is so much we can do to help care for our climate and ourselves.

Photo credits: Heidi Edmonds (Lucinda and Stella wandering around the Brisbane Riverside precinct and playing on Brisbane mudflats)

About the authors:

Dr Tammra Warby is an Australian family doctor with a degree in Science, a PhD in Virology and a keen interest in the current and future health of people and the planet. She is on the FRACGP Future Leaders program, interested in educating the public about staying well as well as future doctors and family medicine trainees. You can follow/join the conversation on Twitter @DrTammraWarby.

Dr Heidi Edmonds is an ecologist / environmental engineer with a PhD in freshwater ecology who is currently looking after two young children. As a mother, she is especially interested in making climate science and climate action accessible, simple and easy to understand for more people. Check out her blog at (

Minor edit: 18 April 2018 regarding National Sustainability Commission. 

Republished by CCL AU and on LinkedIn.

A Video for “Love for our Future”

I’ve turned my hand to making a little home-made video for my climate-science-electro-pop-dance track “Love for our Future”, as part of my Rose Carrousel music project. Thanks to Sudip Khadka for his excellent camera work. I’ve added the lyrics as text – you can read them if you turn on cc (see instructions below the video). I hope you find the lyrics inspiring and uplifting when thinking about caring for our future world. If you like the track you can buy a copy at bandcamp. 50% of sales go to the Long Future Foundation.

Thanks to my girls Stella and Lucinda for being such good sports with the super-hero capes in the video footage I took of them.


Want to read the lyrics while you listen? Turn on cc:  There is a little box with the letters cc that you turn on at the bottom of the youtube window, or you will find it if you click on the 3 little vertical dots at the top right of the youtube window on your phone.

By request, here are the lyrics:

Love for our Future
Heidi Edmonds

This is the sound of my heart beating
And a little heart beating, beating next to mine
And there’s a little billion heart beats beating, keeping time
When I hold my little loves in my arms I wonder how can I best show love for our future
Show love for our future

Clean air, green trees, little birds tweeting
It’s amazing this place we live
I want these wonderful things
in my girls’ futures

Buy less
Love More
Speak up
For the future of those that we adore

Its time for us
to be superheroes
and save
the world

repeat chorus

don’t need these big shiny things
just time for conversations and love
don’t need these big shiny things
just a healthy planet and food to eat

Verse 2:

This is my heart beating
These are my feet stomping
Won’t you come and join the dance to do all we can
to show love to the future, show love for our future

Tend your garden
Buy an education
For a little girl on the other side of the world
Put solar panels on your roof darling

we can keep our plant safe for the ones we love
for our little ones

Second Chorus:
Buy less
Love More
Speak up
For the future of those that we adore

Its time for us
to be superheroes
and save
the world

we’re going to weather this together
we’re going to weather this together
keep the coal on the ground and the solar panels high on the roof
we’re going to weather this together
we’re going to weather this together
see the birds in the sky and these green trees and the waves crashing to the shore

Buy less
Love More
Speak up
For the future of those that we adore

for the future of those that we adore


mp3 artwork by Stella and Lucinda Edmonds
Vocals, lyrics, music and production: Heidi Edmonds
Mastered by Mastered by Shuhandz at Sapphire Studios (


Want to read more:
this song is inspired by:

lots of love