A resource to empower children to act on climate change issues

A handbook brought out by SeasonWatch, an India-wide citizen science project associated with the Nature Conservation Foundation, uses a series of interactive activities to help children understand weather, biodiversity, water, food and soil 

Updated - May 06, 2024 10:26 am IST

Published - May 06, 2024 09:00 am IST - Bengaluru

Cars are stranded in floodwaters on a blocked highway following heavy rainfall, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on April 19

Cars are stranded in floodwaters on a blocked highway following heavy rainfall, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on April 19 | Photo Credit: Amr Alfiky

“People encounter the word climate change almost every time they read the newspaper,” says Dr. Geetha Ramaswami. This is not surprising. From a never-ending scorching summer in Bengaluru to flooding in Dubai, heavy snow in sunny Los Angeles, droughts in Colombia and Ecuador and wildfires in Chile, reports of extreme weather events that appear to be linked to climate change never seem to end. 

Less dramatic impact

But climate change can also have less dramatic consequences. For example, the changing climate affects the seasonal patterns of flowering, fruiting and leaf flushing of plants (or phenology). “It (climate change) has been an emerging idea and concept across the world... has become a buzzword,” says Geetha, who is Project Lead at SeasonWatch, an India-wide citizen science project associated with the Nature Conservation Foundation.

And yes, children are not inured to this larger conversation.  SeasonWatch’s latest resource, a Climate Change Educators (CCE) Handbook released in March, seeks to allow children to better understand climate change through observation and documentation of the local environment.

“The messaging most children receive is that it (climate change) is catastrophic. This is not at all empowering,” she says, pointing out that this could lead to a lot of anxiety and fear. However, instead of seeing climate change as simply a scary thing, children should feel empowered to act as and when there is an opportunity to do so, explains Geetha. “For a very long time, we have tried to understand whether a project like SeasonWatch which directly addresses climate change through hands-on action can be a part of the mainstream school curriculum,” she says. This understanding eventually led to the idea of the handbook. “We wanted to have some hands-on action that children can do out in nature and understand what is going on around them,” she says of the handbook that was supported by the Azim Premji University Research Fund and the Wipro Foundation. 

 Front cover of the handbook

 Front cover of the handbook | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRAGEMENT

About the handbook

The handbook approaches the topic of climate change in multiple ways, using a series of interactive activities to gauge its impact on weather, biodiversity, water, food and soil. 

For instance,  one of the activities in the handbook is to get children to study butterfly migration by having them monitor butterfly activity within a designated area. Another activity involves students observing bird communities in their immediate surroundings, filling up an observation sheet and having a discussion about bird migration, and how climate change affects it. “We also have an activity to observe how food habits and climate patterns have changed over time,” says Suhirtha Muhil, Project Manager, SeasonWatch. As part of this exercise, students conduct interviews with people from different age groups to understand how climate impacts food diversity and availability. 

“It is easy for children to connect climate change to their own observations,” says Suhirtha, who was instrumental in creating this resource. For instance, in schools in Kerala, where SeasonWatch is widely used, children have noticed that some trees are now flowering at a later period. “It is not just about listening that polar ice sheets are melting. They are observing what is happening in their own backyard,” she says.

Students of Panchayat Union middle school, Thalavaipatti, Salem with their teacher Mr. Rajangam monitoring trees as part of the SeasonWatch programme.

Students of Panchayat Union middle school, Thalavaipatti, Salem with their teacher Mr. Rajangam monitoring trees as part of the SeasonWatch programme. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRAGEMENT

Collaboration with teachers

Suhirtha worked closely with teachers from schools across India to create this resource, beginning by conducting a survey on nearly 200 of them to understand what sort of resources they would need to link climate change to classroom teaching. “We also asked them how their students reacted to climate change,” she says, adding that many teachers said that while their students were aware of climate change, they were not able to relate it to their surroundings.

Based on the results of the survey, she began working on this resource with a team of teachers. “We realised that only the teacher knows the classroom,” she says, recalling how a teacher from Karnataka suggested that the resource be more observation-oriented. According to Suhirtha, the teacher felt that instead of pushing climate change as the main objective, they should simply let kids observe the world around them and draw their own conclusions. “He wanted it across different topics and to be more observation-based,” she says.

Documenting your local climate- one of the activities in the book.

Documenting your local climate- one of the activities in the book. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRAGEMENT

Citizen science for children

The first draft of the resource is currently available on the SeasonWatch website, free for download and use by anyone who wishes to introduce these ideas to their classroom. “I think that as people use it and give us suggestions and feedback, it will evolve,” says Suhirtha.“Things can be changed.”

But why use the citizen science approach? “We get really important scientific data from citizen science programmes,” she says. “It is not just scientific institutions but also the common man who can contribute to science.” This will help us catch up with Western countries who have been collecting data meticulously for several decades and even centuries.

Introducing this to education, she believes, will help children —  both urban and rural —  build a deep, long-lasting connection to nature. Many of these connections are being lost, says Suhirtha, who hopes that this observation-based resource will help instil a deeper appreciation of the natural world. “We wanted the kids who try out these resources to get a sense of their own environment, a sense of feeling that this is my place, my home, my village, my town, my city,” she says. “Once that comes, that attachment and sense of protection towards your land, everything will follow that.”

The SeasonWatch handbook is available for download at https://www.seasonwatch.in/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/Draft_CCE_Handbook.pdf.  

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