How do you constructively address environmental issues with your students, without triggering eco-anxiety? Since today’s generation is particularly concerned with the impact of these issues, it is important to discuss them, even in school.
To introduce the subject in a positive way, it is best to suggest concrete solutions that can be used in daily life, locally or individually. This gives students a sense that they can actually do something and have an impact. Here are a few suggestions.
How to approach an important, but delicate subject
In countries around the world, environmental challenges can seem overwhelming, especially to young people. It is often said that time is of the essence in order to achieve governmental goals, because many impacts will be felt in the short term. We are talking about air pollution, waste that is piling up, endangered animals, carbon footprints, waste, overpopulation, etc.
Introducing children and adolescents to these major societal issues that are beyond their control can be very anxiety-provoking for them! A study, conducted in 2021 in 10 countries, revealed that three quarters of young people think that the future is “frightening” when it comes to climate change, and half of them feel sad, anxious, powerless and guilty.
Of course, we need to raise your students’ awareness of this reality, but in doing so in a way that doesn’t trigger them or cut them off from a potentially strong, healthy connection to nature. Approaching environmental issues in the following ways could be a start:
1. Nature and its value
By teaching your students basic knowledge about ecosystems and the interconnectedness of all living things, you will make them realize nature’s enormous value. Discuss the emotions your students feel when they are in direct contact with the forest, rivers/lakes or animals, and invite them to share an aspect of nature that fascinates them. By remembering a concrete, meaningful experience, your students will understand their connection with natural elements.Take a look at these activity sheets about plants.
2. Impacts of human activity on nature
By discussing the state of the planet 50 years ago and its current state, students will have something positive to refer to as they move forward with solutions. If they understand how human activity can impact the planet and the creatures that live on it, they will know what led us to the current situation and what needs to change.
3. Presenting current issues
Each week, an environmental issue can be presented in more detail, along with possible solutions (both on an individual and collective level). By presenting one issue at a time, you can break down the climate crises into smaller issues so as not to trigger too much eco-anxiety. Empower your students by discussing concrete things that they can do in their own lives, on a small scale (see the list of suggested activities below in this article).
4. Round table
Having a round table to discuss the emotions that these issues trigger in your students can help to reduce the pressure and the anxiety that they feel. Let them know that they are not guilty, and that they are not responsible for the state of the planet, and that resolving of these issues is not only up to their generation. Explain to them as well that it is normal, at any age, to experience difficult emotions related to the environmental crisis, but that they should concentrate on the solutions that they can apply in their daily lives, on a small-scale. This way, they will develop their power to act, instead of their anxiety.
What is sustainable development?
Introduce your students to the concept of sustainable development, which aims to redefine the relationship between human beings and with nature. It is about challenging development that focuses solely on economic growth, which can harm the environment and cause increased poverty for a part of humanity.
Sustainable development has several goals:
- Maintaining the integrity of the environment to ensure the health and safety of human communities and the ecosystems that sustain life;
- Ensuring social equity that enables the full development of all human beings and communities;
- Creating innovative economic activity that is both ecologically and socially responsible.
Class activities related to sustainable development
Providing solutions to environmental issues, even on a small scale, helps students to be active rather than feeling powerless and anxious. Several educational activities can be offered to give then the opportunity to regroup and take action on environmental issues:
- Making ecological cleaning products for school and home. This fun activity allows students to learn about the concept of an ecological footprint and makes them aware of the positive impacts that simple daily gestures can have when it comes to protecting the environment.
During the activity, students can make floor cleaner, dishwashing liquid, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent and toothpaste. A recipe booklet to be shared should be produced to summarize the steps of the project (which also ensures that students achieve their language requirements).
A booth can be set up outside the class to present the products and distribute the formulas to other students in the school. As well, students can bring the products home and act as eco-citizen ambassadors with their friends and family.
- From the earth to the plate : Using bread as an example, elementary school students learn about the various stages in the food production cycle. They can try to identify the steps for various types of everyday products. Making bread is also suggested to allow students to experience all the stages of production together.
- Letter to the government: Follow the lead of Shawinigan’s alternative school Énergie and send letters written by students to the environment minister asking that environmental targets be respected. You can give the letters to your MNA, who can then hand deliver them to the minister. “We want to show young people that they have an impact, that they can do great things and inspire their community,” said the teacher behind the project.
- Picking up litter: Whether on a riverbank, in a park or on school grounds, students can take some of their time together to pick up litter. This will make them more aware not to leave any in the future!
- The class garden: Before wanting to protect nature, you have to know, understand and appreciate it. Children and teenagers receive a lot of abstract information about nature, both from media or in school. In order to introduce nature to young people and make a real connection, the Vireo hydroponic garden educational project is ideal.
By planting seeds and then watering and caring for the plants, seeing vegetables, fruit, salad and herbs grow and then harvesting them, students learn to understand the value of nature. This enables them to create a strong, personal connection with nature, and to understand why it is important to preserve it. With this soil-less indoor vegetable garden project, not only do students experience the joy of learning to garden, they also learn how to take care of nature, themselves and the other students in the class.
For more information about how to set up a Vireo garden in your school, contact us.