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  • Writer's picturemichelle atterby

Addressing the Climate Crisis in Environmental Education

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Climate change is a heavily debated and controversial topic, bringing up strong emotions and/or a refusal to address these emotions. For me, the weight of the climate crisis hit about five years ago. I had been facilitating equine assisted learning programs for several years, set in natural environments, and with the focus to support the development of emotional and social intelligence. At the time, this was a compelling call to service, but suddenly, all of it felt meaningless. I sought out a climate scientist to mentor with, and learn the truth about the climate peril we are facing. I spent the first six months grieving, feeling despair and loss, and as I started to pick myself up, wondered how I could best be of service. I read and researched for several more months, and then concluded that I needed to make some drastic changes in my life, and continue my education so I was properly equipped to do my part, and support others in a way that both ignited and inspired them to take action.

I closed down my business, sold my farm, and said good-bye to my lovely big farmhouse. I had to begin my own 'unplugging' from the industrial-growth machine. I purchased twenty eight acres of raw land, placed a tiny home on it, built a massive permaculture garden, focused on creating enriched living spaces for the animals, bought several yurts, and began the vision of creating an environmental / ecological education centre.

I am now completing my masters degree in environmental education, as well as my facilitator training in Joanna Macy's, the Worth that Reconnects, and pursuing post graduate certification in eco therapy. This fall we open our youth environmental education after school program! Our curriculum is designed to inspire youth to fall in love with the natural world, ignite conversation and address strong emotions, and empower them to become solutionaries in re-imagining a new world that sustains life, and live in harmony with nature.

So, how will we address the topic of climate crisis with kids?

How educators and parents respond to kids matter! Our job is not to overprotect, scare or be dismissive of the global problems we are facing, but to LISTEN to our kids concerns, fears and grief, and talk about them together in safe, supportive and caring ways.

For younger kids, under the age of seven, the emphasis is about engaging the ecological imagination, developing deep connections to nature through place bonding, and teaching about the intricate web of life; how we are all connected, and how the consequences of our behaviours effect so many other beings in the world. This will be accomplished through interactive games, eco art, story-telling, and experiential activities.

Modelling behaviour that is caring, thoughtful and kind towards animals, growing your own food, taking initiative actions to green your child's school, reducing, and being mindful of consumer purchases are some ways parents can initiate pro environmental behaviours at home. We all have the power to participate.

Older kids have the ability to think abstractly and form hypotheses, making them vulnerable to experiencing levels of eco anxiety, fear and hopelessness. This is where I lean into the Work that Reconnects, and create safe, supportive spaces for kids to share and express their emotions. Joanna's work is a beautiful process that "honours our pain for the world" and continues through a spiral of steps that leads us to inspired action. As well, Zoe Weil, founder of the Institute of Humane Education, is a powerful thought leader that has built a wonderful curriculum focusing on solutionary thinking and action.

As we create sacred space for our kids to feel safe, be seen, openly express, embrace their ecological imagination, and fall in love with the natural world, we can assist in positively shaping their behaviour towards pro-environmental actions, develop their creative, critical thinking, and tend to their gentle hearts, inspiring and empowering them to become the leaders the world is waiting for.

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