Green School
Photo Credit: Green School South Africa

Green School SA shares how educators and parents can teach their children about climate change without making them feel fearful of the future.

 

South Africa (11 October 2022) – As the world gears up for Global Climate Change Week (GCCW), which takes place from 12 to 18 October, the spotlight is not only on how we can all contribute to taking the world to a sustainable, resilient and zero-carbon future, but also on the issue of ecophobia, an increasingly common phenomenon among children.

A survey published in September 2021 by researchers with the UK’s University of Bath and other schools, in which they spoke to 10,000 people in ten countries, found that almost 60% of youth were either “very or extremely worried” about climate change. Two-thirds said they felt sad, afraid and anxious, while an enormous 77% said that they considered the future to be frightening.

For Green School South Africa, the best way to highlight awareness is by educating our children, empowering them with the knowledge and tools to look after our planet, and to do this while avoiding the very real issue of ecophobia, says Andy Wood, Head of Green School South Africa. Ecophobia – also called eco-anxiety or eco-depression, is a feeling of anxiety over environmental degradation and powerlessness to prevent cataclysmic environmental change.

“Ecophobia is debilitating,” says Wood. “Climate change is ongoing and a global threat, but that is not a constructive message for children. The challenge is HOW to teach children about environmental challenges without creating a sense of anxiety or helplessness.’

As a thought leader in education for sustainability, Green School plays an important role in not just teaching children about environmental challenges but sharing how to teach them.

“The aim is not to overwhelm or scare them, but to inspire our children to be change makers,” explains Wood.

The South African school, which opened its doors in February 2021, is the third in a growing network of global schools that educates for sustainability through community-integrated, entrepreneurial learning, all in a natural environment. Green School SA has used the stepping stones laid out in David Sobel’s Beyond Ecophobia to develop a comprehensive plan that builds a real sense of wonder, joy and connection to nature. Through this appreciation, children develop an intrinsic desire to protect what they have come to love.

Developing a bond with the natural world

“The narrative we share with the different age groups is well thought out and intentional as to what kids are exposed to at different stages so that they are not overwhelmed,” explains Wood.

The approach with pre-primary children is to highlight how beautiful and wonderful nature is and to embrace their wonder and joy when enjoying the outdoors.

“We teach them to look after things and start with small challenges such as reducing waste in the classroom and switching off lights,” says Wood.

From eight to ten, the children are taught about habitats and landscapes. They learn more concrete concepts and are given a geographical understanding of the context within which they exist. A symbiosis with nature remains the common thread throughout. The 11- to 13-year-olds are taught how the changing environment impacts their lives, while at middle school level, the teaching is more project-based with a focus on how human actions, both good and bad, can affect the environment and our planet.

Children slowly expand both their understanding of the challenges and the belief in their power to tackle them. Having understood how climate change impacts their school and town, they can then think of solutions for their country and eventually the world. In high school, they are encouraged to participate in debates and discussions and seek solutions for the challenges facing us.

How to help children cope with ecophobia

  • Talk to them about their anxiety and let them know that it’s a rational feeling to have
  • Teach them eco-friendly habits that will help our planet – moving from helpless to helping
  • Show them examples of companies and individuals making changes – create a sense that there is a growing movement, and we get to be part of it
  • Be a role model: recycle, re-use, don’t waste
  • Spend time in nature to encourage an appreciation of the natural environment

Sources: Green School SA
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About the Author

Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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