Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Five Carbon Footprint Activities for Kids

By The Editorial Team

In these eco-friendly times, “carbon footprint” has become a hot-button phrase. While that is wonderful news, it is not necessarily something children grasp intuitively. They must instead be taught the meaning of the phrase using activities that contextualize it within their lives. Luckily, it is not hard to come up with carbon footprint activities kids can do.

Below are some easily instituted lessons that will help young learners understand the impact of their carbon footprint and ways they can reduce it with simple actions.

1. Carbon footprint calculation

One of the simplest ways to introduce carbon footprints to kids is to give them a concrete way to interact with the concept. PBS Kids offers a colorful and easy-to-understand carbon footprint calculator that lets students examine their transportation and eating habits, school and home energy use, and what they recycle and throw away.

During computer time, allow kids to input their habits in each of these categories and see what they come up with. It is advisable to walk students through using the calculator the first time they do it, accompanying each step with explanatory statements. After they’ve calculated their footprint, invite them to try again, this time modifying one category at a time to see how they could most easily reduce their number.

2. Brainstorm about how to shrink carbon footprints

After they understand what a carbon footprint is, a good next step is to lead students in a discussion about how people’s everyday choices impact the environment. On the board or in small groups, invite students to come up with ideas about actions that might contribute to their carbon footprints, such as leaving unused electronics running or buying single-serving drinks and snacks. When students have produced a sufficient number of ideas, have them add alternative actions that lower their carbon footprint.

3. Institute “Low Carbon Day”

Teachers can either stage a Low Carbon Day within their own classroom or, if their schools participate in an Ecology Week, they can get other teachers to participate in a school-wide observance. Either way, plan this day for when students already have a working familiarity with carbon footprints. Encourage them to think of ways to reduce their footprint beforehand, then put those ideas into action on the planned day. Help each student create a  list of steps they will take, and at the end of the day have them check off their list to see how well they did. Record the easiest actions to take on the board.

4. Produce a carbon footprint poster

Invite students to make individual posters showing an action, or several, that they and their families can take to reduce their carbon load. When the posters are completed, display them in the classroom or hall before sending them home with students.

5. Carbon footprint checklists

Kids love nothing more than telling their families what to do, so sending them home with a carbon checklist for the week is bound to get their attention. Examples could include “Use a refillable water bottle instead of buying bottled water,” and “Unplug phone chargers when they’re not in use.”

Print off a simple list, making a table where they can check off each carbon-saving action every day for a week. Pass it out on Monday, then review the results the following Monday.

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