Have you wondered what the Montessori approach is to discussing the climate emergency or the recent #globalclimatestrike? It hard not to feel motivated and inspired but how can we educate our children on this issue in an age-appropriate way?
"At this age we do not tell the child about the problems with the environment, global warming, etc. Giving this information too early can cause confusion and stress, worry and even avoidance of anything to do with the earth. Instead we share the wonder and the beauty of the earth. This is true of the studies of plants and animals, and of people of the world. Children grow up to care about, be interested in, and care for, the things they have learned to love." Susan Stephenson, Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+.
In the first six years of life the child is trying to make sense of the world. We want to assist with this and not confuse or overwhelm the child. The information we give the child needs to be factual, we don't tell untruths. We need to carefully build their knowledge around the environment and the climate emergency. In Montessori, our aim is to raise global citizens but we need to start locally, in the concrete, start in the home, start in the local community.
Strong scientific knowledge is an excellent basis for activism later in life - if the child chooses. The difficulty is we don't want the child to feel fearful, anxious, helpless, pessimistic or even depressed over issues they have no control over. What we can do is empower them with knowledge and allow them to be motivated over the local issues or issues within the home or community environment such as the school. For my children (8yrs and 11yrs) we focus on making good decisions such as good food choices, reducing energy needs and reducing or eliminating waste. We focus on protecting the natural environment at the local level, doing what makes sense to us - at every step.
"I would like to repeat, this is not the age for focusing on all the problems that are besetting Earth. Children at this age naturally feel a oneness with all of creation and it can cause pain or a shutting-down to tell them of problems too early. Instead we focus on their love - beauty, of caring for objects, of knowledge, and language." - Susan Stephenson, Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+.
"At this age there is a natural interest in fairness and justice in the classroom and in the world. The level at which children can care for each other and for plants and animals and can go out into the world is much higher. They can clean the beaches and riverbeds, feed the homeless, cook their own meals, and clean the school. When there is a temptation to focus on the academic curriculum at this age these things must be kept alive." Susan Stephenson at Michael Olaf.
There is a time to explore global issues and concerns, to make the connections to our local impact on global issues and I believe for most children this is at six years+, for many this will be closer twelve. To understand melting ice caps the child must first have a grasp of geography, to understand how we can reduce carbon emissions we first must know what carbon is, and this underlying foundation is what we can build in the child's formative years.
"If climate change or related questions come up, then answer these in an age-appropriate way, focusing on the positive, practical solutions and the things we can do to help our environment. All children, especially anxious children, may feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty around climate change, or may pick up on your own worries and fears, so do be mindful when it comes to the kind of language you use and try and always keep things positive and practical, sharing examples of projects and people who have made a difference." - Frida Be Mighty, Talking to Kids about Climate Change.
Keep in mind that the inspirational activist Greta Thunberg is sixteen years old. Public protesting #globalclimatestrike may not be age-appropriate for your child. We also want to teach media literacy and critical thinking to our children and both of these are needed in climate emergency discussions.
Some children (just like adults) will be drawn to public activism while others will prefer to express themselves or protest/strike differently. Respect and trust your child, you know them best.