Exploring climate change with children

Author: Jo Barwell
Published: 21/09/2022

Practical activities to develop children's understanding

These practical activities, courtesy of our sister site, Family Education, will help even your youngest learners to understand the science behind climate change.

Demonstrating the greenhouse effect 

Like the Earth's atmosphere, a greenhouse allows sunlight in but doesn’t allow heat to escape. You can demonstrate this by using two thermometers and a glass jar. 

Place one thermometer inside the jar and place it in a sunny position. Set the other thermometer next to the jar. Wait for 20 minutes, then come back and compare the temperatures. The temperature inside the jar will be hotter because the glass is keeping some of the sun’s heat from escaping.

You can then explain to children that, by burning fossil fuels such as coal, we create more carbon dioxide, a gas that interferes with the planet's atmosphere by trapping extra heat. 

Exploring rising sea levels

Demonstrate how sea levels are rising using two clear plastic containers of the same size, cold water, ice cubes, clay, play dough or rocks, a ruler and a marker pen. 

  • Use the clay, play dough or rocks to form ‘land’ in both containers. The land areas should cover about a quarter of the bottom and be one to two inches high.

  • Place ice cubes on the ‘land’ in one of the containers. This is your ‘land ice’ container. In the other container (your ‘sea ice’ container), place the same number of ice cubes at the bottom of the container.

  • Add the same amount of water to both containers and mark the water level with your pen. Check the water level at regular intervals (for example, every five minutes) and ask children to write down their observations. Discuss which melts faster, sea ice or land ice? How does melting ice affect the water levels? How do the changing water levels affect the land? How might this affect people, plants, or animals on the land?

Investigating air pollution

Examine air pollution around your school using just a wooden block or brick, plastic wrap, petroleum jelly, duct tape and plain white paper

Simply wrap the plastic wrap around the block or brick and secure it with duct tape. Then spread a thin layer of petroleum jelly over one side of the plastic-wrapped block. Place the block outside, jelly side up, for at least 24 hours. 

Collect the block and lay it on the paper, jelly side down. You should see small pieces of collected particles. Explain to the children that cars cause more of these particles to be released into the atmosphere which we then breathe in. What do they suggest? 

Printable resources for older learners

If you're looking for printable resources for climate change, our What do we mean by climate change? PowerPoint is a great starting point for discussion. Follow it with our What is climate change? Reading comprehension to consolidate children's understanding, raise awareness and developing reading fluency.
And for resources to develop children's writing skills as well as their understanding of environmental issues. Try Reduce, reuse, recycle! Planning an eventClimate change – write a newspaper article, Climate change – take action! and Write a formal letter – lobby your MP

Browse our Climate change collection for more. 

Jo Barwell

Senior Content Lead