Although climate change has no specific topic in the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 curriculums within the UK, elements of the subject can be found within the wider science and geography curriculum.
Children's author, Catherine Barr, has made it her mission to translate complex issues and science into accessible bite-size copy and words that can spark conversations between children, family, people, and grown-ups.
Catherine’s career has been based on a career in ecology, complementing her long-term interest in nature, with a particular focus on campaigning and protecting the environment.
Catherine’s love for travel and experiencing the world grew through her work with Greenpeace and the Natural History Museum.
Her love for writing books lies in collaborating with scientists, illustrators, and publishers and bringing everything together. She learns so much and shares that with children, tapping into their different avenues of interest, such as drawing, writing, science, and art.
Catherine’s been writing non-fiction books for over eight years and highlights the issues she feels strongly about. Her first book, The Story of Life, was about evolution. “It was inspired by the fact that even then [upon publishing], evolution wasn’t on the primary curriculum,” she says.
Catherine has found that climate change is now a familiar concept to children: “When I visit schools, it’s a familiar word. I don’t know how much those words in themselves mean – it’s about caring for our planet and how we’re upsetting the balance of nature and what the impact of this is. Unless you care about nature, you’re not going to want to save it or look after it when you grow up.”
Catherine Barr and Steve Williams. Image Credit: Catherine Barr
Her book, The Story of Climate Change, co-authored with Steve Williams, introduces the evergreen topic in an accessible way by combining history with science.
‘The Story of Climate Change will give you all the information you need, and will inspire you to do your part to fight the climate emergency!’
She believes children should have access to real-life stories, not just fiction. Catherine uses this familiarity to talk about caring for our planet, how we’re upsetting the balance of nature, and what the impact of this is.
Alongside researching and publishing these books, Catherine frequents local schools to deliver workshops surrounding the topic. She says: “At a primary age, the most important thing is enthusiasm, curiosity, love of the outdoors, appreciating the wonder of nature and what it does for us, how we depend on it and why it’s important,
“I talk about choices and habits. Empowering children to understand that everything they do every day will have an impact on the world around us.”
She also believes that it’s not about lecturing about climate change; it’s about inspiring curiosity, empowering children to ask questions, and encouraging new habits.
Whilst climate change has no standalone place in the KS1 and KS2 curriculums in the UK, Catherine agrees that climate change shouldn’t be a separate topic. She says: “It should underly every topic. It’s about connecting with nature and our impact. That’s the problem – it’s isolated as a separate topic.
“Climate change isn’t essentially complicated; it’s essentially humans polluting the planet and the consequences of that. You can approach that in so many different ways – whether you do it through art or maths or science or writing.”
She adds that teachers have provided feedback saying they’ll use her books across the curriculum differently. “You can approach the underlying issues of climate change through every subject in the curriculum,
“The words 'climate' and 'change' are flat words. From a children’s point of view, they’re not exciting words, and they’re associated with this great big adult complex concept” she says.
Image Credit: Catherine Barr
Catherine tries to look at what the world can and could look like in terms of embracing solutions to climate change and encouraging children to think about that. She says: “It’s about engaging children through experience, hands-on experience, and understanding of what something means, which is better than seeing it on the television or reading it in a book.”
In true storyteller fashion, Catherine acknowledges that stories effectively teach children about complex issues.
“If children hear a good story, then they'll tell someone else. That understanding through stories and experiences spreads,” she says.
She believes that understanding the connections between everything is vital. Nothing is isolated. Through her work, Catherine has tried to connect those faraway places we hear about, such as Antarctica, the Amazon, and the Great Barrier Reef, to our own lives.
“It's easy to feel far-removed. I’ve worked with scientists all over the world, appreciating those connections and learning from people in the field.”
In terms of conservation and looking after our world, Catherine appreciates that the voices of local people, indigenous people, are essential in doing conservation work. She says: “It’s not just a bunch of global scientists sorting out the problem. Integration and appreciation of a range of people working together is the key to success.”
Catherine inspires young minds with science, nature, and conservation. Her books, collaborations, and approach to teaching children about complex issues are making a difference. By inspiring curiosity, encouraging questions, and promoting new habits, she is helping to shape young minds.
Catherine’s most recent book, The Tiger’s Tale, is available for purchase by clicking here.
In August this year, Catherine’s new book, The Story of Conservation, will be released as the latest in the series ‘The Story Of..’
Keep up to date with Catherine’s work by following her Instagram here.