Kids Don’t Know Enough About Climate Solutions. Children’s Media Could Help.

But a report I co-authored with Sara Poirer in 2022 for This Is Planet Ed, an initiative at the Aspen Institute (where I’m an adviser), found that children’s media is still largely silent on climate. Zero of the most popular family movies of 2021 referred to climate change or related topics, and even when reviewing educational, nature and wildlife-themed TV shows for kids, we found that only nine of 664 episodes, or 1.4%, referred to climate change.

To help break the silence, This Is Planet Ed now has a Planet Media initiative, dedicated to encouraging creators to make more scientifically accurate and entertaining media that engages kids on the causes, solutions and even the opportunities to be found in our changing climate.

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“This is Cooler” uses a combination of live action and animation, with snappy editing, plenty of humor and positivity, to get across some basic info in terms kids can understand. (Image provided by Encantos)

Planet Media supported the creation of Encantos Media’s just-released “This is Cooler” video series, which is aimed at tweens. It uses a combination of live action and animation, with snappy editing, plenty of humor and positivity, to get across some basic info in terms kids can understand. For example, it compares heat-trapping greenhouse gases to a too-thick blanket making the planet warmer. The series also looks at green career opportunities, like solar panel installer or sustainable fashion designer.

Jaramillo said she was inspired by successful YouTube influencers who inform while they entertain. “It’s super engaging,” she said. “It’s not your typical climate education video.”

Just like the tweens she talked to, many children’s media creators also hold the misconception that climate change equals doom and gloom. I’m currently running an informal survey of people in the children’s media industry for a chapter in an upcoming book on climate change education. More than four out of five of our respondents agreed that “children’s media should cover climate change, its causes, impacts and solutions in developmentally appropriate ways.”

But when asked why there isn’t more coverage of the topic to be found already, the top three responses were “creators don’t have the background knowledge,” “too scary” and “too controversial.” One respondent, who works in climate change education, said, “My children (ages 6 and 8) no longer want to watch nature documentaries because they always manage to describe how climate change threatens or is killing wildlife and their ecosystems. It’s too scary and they feel helpless.”

One of the most successful kids’ science media creators out there says that doesn’t have to be the case. “It’s important to meet kids where they are. To care about the planet you first have to love it,” said Mindy Thomas, co-host of “Wow in the World” from Tinkercast. The kids’ science podcast reaches about 600,000 unique listeners a month. And at least one in five episodes touches on the environment.

Thomas and her team participated in Planet Media’s recent “pitch fest,” an open call for more content that puts across the core facts of climate change in an age-appropriate way, as well as depicting solutions. “We wanted to use our platform to help elevate this important initiative,” said Meredith Halpern-Ranzer, co-founder of Tinkercast. “Climate activism is always something we’ve been really passionate about.”

Often, Halpern-Ranzer and her team find their “wow” by focusing on emerging climate solutions, like a plant-based substitute for single-use plastic, or white paint that can cool down a city. Last fall, they launched Tinker Class, a National Science Foundation-funded hub for teachers to use the podcasts in their elementary school classrooms, as the instigators for “podject-based learning” activities (the “Wow in the World” team really likes puns). About 2,000 teachers have participated so far. Similarly, This is Planet Ed has created an “educational guide” to reinforce the key messages that Planet Media content is trying to get across.

Ashlye Allison teaches fifth grade in a Title I elementary school in South Seattle. She crafts her own curriculum on climate change, following the Next Generation Science Standards, which seek to improve science education using a three-dimensional approach.

“I want it to be connected to their daily lives and what’s going on in Seattle, and about, ‘what can we do about this?’” She showed the “This Is Cooler” video to her students, and said they found it more engaging than other videos she’s used in class.

Just as Jaramillo found, Allison said her students especially liked the video’s reference to solutions like solar power and electric school buses. “If it’s just doom and gloom, nothing can happen, and so I don’t care. That’s what my kids took out of it: solutions. That’s what they quoted the most, is how to fix it. And I think they would be interested in more ways people are fixing different problems.”

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