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EarthTalk: How to explain global warming to kids

Published 12:27 pm, Thursday, December 26, 2013
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Dear EarthTalk: Do you have any tips for explaining global warming and other complex environmental problems to my kids? -- Peter Buckley, Pittsburgh.

Kids today may be more eco-savvy than we were at their age, but complex topics like global warming may still mystify them. Luckily there are many resources available to help parents teach their kids how to understand the issues and become better stewards for the planet.

A great place to start is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "A Student's Guide to Global Climate Change" website. The site is divided into sections, so kids can get just the right amount of detail without feeling overwhelmed. One feature of the site is a virtual trip around the world to see the effects of climate change in different regions. An emissions calculator -- with questions tailored to kids' lifestyles -- helps connect everyday actions (like running the water while brushing teeth) and climate change. And a FAQ page answers some of the most common questions about climate change in easy-to-read short paragraphs.

Another great online resource is NASA's Climate Kids website, which engages kids with games, videos and craft activities and offers digestible info on what's causing climate change and how kids can make a difference. A guided tour of the "Big Questions" uses cartoon characters and brightly colored designs to help kids come to grips with the basics.

Perhaps even more engaging for those 8 and older is Cool It!, a card game from the Union of Concerned Scientists. The game, designed in collaboration with science educators, requires players to collect "solution" cards in the categories of energy, transportation and forests, while slowing opponents down by playing "problem" cards along the way.

The game is available for purchase ($7.95) directly from the UCS website.

Younger kids curious about climate change can consult the Professor Sneeze website, which features online illustrated children's stories that present global warming in a familiar context. The stories for 5- to 8-year-olds follow a cartoon bunny on various warming related adventures. A few of the story titles include "The Earth Has a Fever," "Where Are the Igloos of Iglooville?" and "Tears on the Other Side of the World." The site also features stories geared toward 8- to 10-year-olds and 10- to 12-year-olds.

Of course, teachers can play a key role in making sure kids are well versed in the science of climate change. A recently launched initiative from the National Center for Science Education -- long respected for its work in defending and supporting the teaching of evolution in the public schools -- aims to help teachers do a better job of teaching climate change in the classroom. The group's Climate Change Education website points teachers to a treasure trove of resources they can use to demystify the science behind global warming, combat "climate change denial" and support "climate literacy."

EarthTalk is by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss of E -- The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to earthtalk@emagazine.com.