New Zealand Schools To Teach Kids How To Manage Their Anxiety About Climate Change

'It helps kids to see that it is a fixable problem and people are working on it,' says an advocate.

children and teenagers at a climate change protest.
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

'It helps kids to see that it is a fixable problem and people are working on it,' says an advocate.

New Zealand will be the first country in the world to provide its schoolchildren with a comprehensive curriculum about climate change, The Guardian reports. The materials will teach the students strategies for dealing with their own concerns about global heating and dealing with “eco-anxiety,” as officials are calling it, among other things.

The country will offer a comprehensive set of study materials that will be available to students aged 11 through 15. Portions of the materials will be written by leading climate scientists who work with some of the country’s environmental agencies.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said that the materials will teach students about the reality of the problem.

“It explains the role science plays in understanding climate change, aids understanding of both the response to it and its impacts – globally, nationally and locally – and explores opportunities to contribute to reducing and adapting to its impact on everyday life,” he said.

James Shaw, New Zealand’s climate change minister and co-leader of the Green Party, said that one key aspect of teaching children about climate change is not only about the reality of the problem, but also how they can deal with their anxieties about the issue. He notes that kids get much of their information — particularly about climate change — from social media, which can come with many alarming predictions. He said children will often feel powerless when it comes to climate change.

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11: Swedish environment activist Greta Thunberg gives a speech at the plenary session during the COP25 Climate Conference on December 11, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. The COP25 conference brings together world leaders, climate activists, NGOs, indigenous people and others for two weeks in an effort to focus global policy makers on concrete steps for heading off a further rise in global temperatures. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
  Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images

Teaching students to deal with their feelings is as much a part of the curriculum as the scientific facts, Shaw continued.

To that end, the curriculum will direct teachers to talk with their students so they can work through their feelings about the issue, using a “feelings thermometer” to track their emotions. The materials also teach students to change self-defeating internal monologues that might cause them to believe there is no hope. The curriculum teaches that hopelessness is not only detrimental to students’ emotional well-being, it could also lead to inaction.

“It helps kids to see that it is a fixable problem and people are working on it, and there is something they can foresee for themselves in terms of their own futures,” Shaw said.

This is the first attempt — on a national scale — to introduce climate-change curriculum into a national education program.

In the United States, as EdSource noted in October 2019, public school curriculum is determined by a patchwork of local school boards, operating under state law, which itself operates under federal law. Several communities in California, for example, have added climate literacy to their science curricula.