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How to teach children about sustainability during lockdown

So, how is home-schooling going then?!

by Melissa Spiers, 22 April 2020


By now you’ve participated in some PE lessons (bet you never thought you’d see the day – especially not with Joe Wickes!), been quizzed on your knowledge of significant historical events and eras (OK, not sure the television show ‘Vikings’ or ‘The Tudors’ was particularly historically accurate but it’ll have to do) and found the holes in your spelling, grammar and knowledge of the English language in general (what does the word ‘ubiquitous’ mean and how is it relevant to your current situation?).

Our lives have suddenly had to become more sustainable, using the resources we have locally and making the most of what we have at home, mainly ourselves (–and flour which is not a ubiquitous resource at present). It has become obvious as a country (and perhaps the world) we have been living unsustainably; relying on long chains across the world to get our goods, spending much time valuing non-essential service over essential, acquiring, driving and unfortunately depleting natural resources faster than your children do any activity you set them.

We now know we don’t ‘need’ to do all that, we should value and build up the things we have locally to support us. This is sensible both for our communities to thrive and in case we are entering a new future where disruption is the norm. Living sustainably is to live within our means, which any financial advisor will tell you is essential… So is it ever too early to instill a sense of sustainability in our children? I think not.


Putting sustainability into the heart of the curriculum

Sustainability isn’t traditionally a key element of the national curriculum, but in the last year it has been working its way in slowly and campaigns for regular lessons on sustainability and climate change have begun.

This time with your kids is a unique and often overwhelming, opportunity. You want them to learn within the curriculum but it’s tricky, sometimes you wonder about things that are ‘not essential’ parts of the curriculum. As mentioned above, sustainability is going to be the essential lesson of our time, which you’re probably already teaching without knowing it (“well if you rip up all the paper you will have no paper left on which to colour”- that sort of thing). But it can also be something you link to English, Maths or just something core within your family that you talk about.

Below are some ideas of how you can spend an hour focusing on sustainability within your home-school curriculum. Also if you want to leave your (older) primary children to fend for themselves and play some climate related games, check out NASA’s Climate KidsFancy something a bit more technical? Enroll yourselves in Earth School  TED based video lessons about various topics released daily. There’s varying levels of difficulty belowso have a go yourself!

For older children or for more resources (if you’re in the swing) checkout the SEED website.


Year 1 and 2

What are things made of and why does it matter?

Part 1. Discovering the material world! For this one outline to your child(ren) that you will be looking into what things are made of. You’ll undoubtedly get lots of questions and suggestions of what things are made of already.

It’s always best to start off with a bit of chaos – a treasure hunt. Tell them they can collect four items, made of different materials, from the house and garden (if you have one). Feel free to get them to collect lots of things if you really need to finish your cup of tea. Perhaps set some rules if you do not want your house turned upside-down…!

Part 2. When they come back praise them for the array of items they tidily collected! Ask them if they know what man-made means and get them to have a think. Once established ask them to sort their materials into natural and man-made piles (throw in some of your own items if you end up with a range of plastic toys or a pile of leaves).

Ask them to group them further by considering the physical similarities of the items (hard/soft, plastic/metal), and ask them to explain why they have separated them this way. You could even select a few items to quiz them on. How do they think these items are made? You might also be able to draw in some ideas of the processes it takes to make these items (trees grow). What would happen to the item when we want to get rid of it?

Here might be an chance to get them to consider whether they could make a teapot out of chocolate or this Bitesize challenge of creating a ball out of newspaper and another out of elastic bands – do they do the same thing?

Part 3. Now time for you to step away and let them design their own material (brace yourself for the best and physically impossible materials). You can put out full on crafting gear to collage or just crayons for this. If they can, get them to write key words around their material. What do they like about their material? What could they use it for? Where would it come from?

Part 4. If any of the materials they picked up are rubbish – well you’ve got yourself a recycling sorting game as the next challenge! Don’t forget why we recycle….


Year 3 and 4

What’s happening in your environment?

There a load of things you can monitor in your surroundings (temperature, rainfall, cloud cover, presence or absence of animals). Why not make observing the natural world a daily (or weekly) exercise? This simple act of observation and record-taking are a key part of working scientifically for Lower KS2 and applying it to life at home will cultivate an awareness of surroundings and wellbeing.

Part 1: Establish the seasons. What a 7/8-year-old doesn’t know about the seasons often isn’t worth knowing – it is such a key part of the primary curriculum, and one of the constant patterns they have observed their whole life. Just in case, establish with them what season we are in? What happens in this season? As the days meld into one another, this can be a good reminder that the world carries on – yes, even in lockdown!

Part 2: Get the children using a thermometer (or other technology if you haven’t got one) to work out the temperature. Ask them to decide whether this is a warm temperature? Give them a pencil and paper and get them to spend a few moments sat outside writing down the temperature, weather, and any wildlife they see/hear. It can also be handy for the part 4 to ask them to decide if there are lots, some or few plants near you (‘vegetation cover’ if technical terms work well you’re your child(ren)).

Part 3 (optional): A minibeast hunt or animal quest opens up a whole new world if you have a garden or some green space to use. Now, I will say there are some guidelines for minibeast hunts:

  1. try not to harm anything
  2. paintbrushes help for a light touch
  3. always get wildlife to crawl/slide into the pot for you

There is a helpful sheet here for identification though lots more are available as this one misses out the number one creature children often find in their gardens: woodlice. The Woodland Trust are a great resource for more

Part 4: Ask your child(ren) to draw one creature that lives near you. What does it need to live? Write this around it, make sure they consider the basics of shelter, habitat, food and water. Would it struggle to survive? How would its life change? Write this down separately.

Part 5: The world is changing, whether the climate is warming up and unusual weather events like flooding are becoming more common. This is affecting some of our animals. This video is available and part of the upper KS2 lesson, if you feel it is appropriate for your children they could watch this. Allow the children to consider what your household can do to provide for the animals and plants living around you? Keep this list of suggestions handy:

  1. You can continue to monitor what’s happening around you
  2. You can make sure you are using less carbon at home by switching lights off and using less energy, which prevents the climate from getting hotter and hotter
  3. You can build homes for wildlife making sure they have shelter and food
  4. You can write a poem right now about what you like in your garden or greenspace and why/how you will protect it.

Congratulate everyone on a job well done and do something proactive for the wildlife near you!


Year 5 and 6

What’s happening in the world?

It may not feel like it now (whilst you’re trapped in the house), but this is one of the best ages to discuss and engage with climate change! The national curriculum covers subjects like ‘climate zones’, ‘human geography’, ‘electricity’ and ‘animal adaptations’ (for the latter you could adapt the year 4&5 lesson above). Since there is so much you could do, I’ve split this into 3 sections:

Idea 1: Electricity and sustainability. If you’ve read my other notes you know a scavenger hunt is my idea of a good time! Focus on electricity and get your child(ren) to come up with a list of things that require electricity. Next, they can think about how the electricity gets to the item – covering the idea of simple circuits. BBC Bitesize have some circuits models and learning tools that you can use to brush up on your knowledge! Once a circuit has established you need ‘power.’ Consider a range of ways to get power. If the children are able to, let them research this for themselves. Alternatively, set them on this site for research, and then let them do the green energy crossword at the end.

Idea 2: Climate zones and animal adaptation. I probably can’t provide better resources than WWF have here for primary school classroom. Now, you’re not a classroom so you may want to pick bits like the worksheets at the end of this lesson 1 document and combine this with a minibeast hunt or sections from the Year 3 & 4 activity above on your local environment. The key theme here is animals can only adapt so much to change, and climate change is just a bit too fast. There’s loads of positive action children can take though – national geographic have produced this fun poster!

Idea 3: Humans and climate change. Possibly most advanced activity. Check out this video produced before the Paris Climate Change Conference. This meeting saw the forming of the Paris Agreement (this links to a lesson). 195 countries agreed to do certain things to reduce CO2. Ask your children to research the Paris Agreement, using the internet. Ask them what they think about it and what they think we should do. They could produce a poster, newspaper article, public information video (or any other medium that takes your fancy) explaining the Paris Agreement.


Are you a local teacher?

We love to work with local schools. Severn Wye operate in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, South Gloucestershire and Wales. We have vast experience in education work and would love to bring some fun activities to your school when it’s up and running again. If you’re interested in working together and would like to register your interest in future work please contact Melissa at melissas(at)

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