Children have a natural fascination with light, the sun, the moon, stars, and nature in general. Even babies and toddlers are interested in different colored lights, casting shadows, and the sky. It is our responsibility to encourage our children to go beyond fascination and teach them how to respect and live in harmony with our natural resources. The best gift we can give our planet and our future is educating the younger generation who are open to new ideas, who can start to understand their part in caring for our planet, and who are likely to make it a part of their lifestyle.
This begins with a very basic explanation of what energy is and how to conserve our resources. This continues with lessons in natural living, recycling, wastefulness, solar panels, wind turbines, and more!
Teaching Kids What Energy Is
Explaining to children our choice to power our lives by the sun begins with teaching our children what energy is and how to conserve it. We can explain to them in basic terms that energy is power we receive from gas, electricity, and even the sun! We use this energy to keep our juice cold in the refrigerator, to light our lamps for bedtime stories, to have warm bath water, and to listen to our favorite songs on the radio. In nature, the sun’s energy is used by plants and flowers to grow. It also helps the trees grow big and strong, so we can enjoy their sweet fruits and shade from their grand branches. In our own bodies, we use energy to digest yummy food, to run, to swim, to climb, and to explore. When we get tired, our energy has run low, so we have to learn to save our energy and just use it when we need it. The same goes for the energy that powers our homes! (Note: This explanation has worked well with my own 4 and 7 year old children.)
Renewable Energy versus Nonrenewable Energy
This part can get a little complicated, so it is best to use visuals to help young kids understand the concept of renewable and nonrenewable energy. Renewable energy sources come from Mother Nature and consist of the sun, wind, and water. They can be replenished quickly-usually daily. Show them how the wind or their breath moves across a pinwheel and causes it to spin. This is called wind energy. Show them how a stream of water pushes things around by throwing sticks and leaves in it. Harnessing the movement of water for energy is called hydroelectricity. Show children the sun (or pictures of the sun to protect their little eyes!). Solar energy harnesses the powerful energy from the sun to illuminate, warm, or power our everyday conveniences. When teaching solar power facts for kids, start with the simple stuff (especially for the little ones). For example, tell them that when the sun shines, it provides light and heat to us on earth. This solar energy helps make plants grow (you could experiment by planting a few flower seeds in a pot and watch them sprout with help from water and sunlight). Because the sun helps these plants grow, it provides food for us to eat. Vegetables and fruits really love the sun!
Nonrenewable energy sources can run out. These sources include coal, oil, and gas. Coal is a fossil fuel made out of energy stored by remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago, and they take millions of years to re-create. So when we use it all up, it is gone for a very long time! Give them examples of products made from coal or from a by-product of coal around the home, such as batteries, plastics, or chalk. A more fun example may be Frosty the Snowman’s nose! Gas is taken by large wells deep under the earth and taken to a processing plant where it is separated from other substances and stored for use. Cities take this gas and distribute it to the community and it is then used to heat water or fuel our stoves. Oil is another fossil fuel taken from underground; it is used in cosmetics, paints, and fuel. There are a lot of fun ways to explain this process with visuals here.
Teaching Kids What Energy Looks Like
For younger children, the concept of energy and electricity is challenging to understand. Showing them practical applications around our home where we live and play every day is a great place to start. Turn a light on in a room and demonstrate that energy is transmitted through wires in the walls to all the outlets and switches in the house. Let them count all the switches, and all the different places electricity comes through the home. Then demonstrate how we use the light from the light bulb, and then we conserve or save the lightbulb’s energy by making sure to turn the switches off when they are not in use. Show them where your circuit breaker is in your home (while reminding them not to touch it!), and show them the meter that measures the amount of electricity being used. This makes electricity use and conservation a little more practical for kids, especially because they can see it themselves.
For the older children, you can expand on solar power facts for kids by explaining how solar energy can provide electricity. Thousands of years ago, the sun was used by Native Americans, Chinese, Greeks and Romans to heat their homes. Today, we use solar panels to heat our homes. The solar panels are placed on the roofs of our homes and capture the sun’s energy to help provide electricity to us. With the sun’s energy, we are able to have hot water for our baths, turn the lights on at night, charge our iPads, and much more. Engage your children by asking for ideas on how solar energy could help power their schools, grocery stores and favorite restaurants. If you already power your home with renewable resources, then demonstrating the application and use of energy is even better! You can show them how your solar panels gather up all the natural energy from the sun, and how you use it for heat or energy use throughout your home. This is a great resource for kids of all ages to understand energy more in depth: http://www2.epa.gov/students.
Conservation Tips and Games for Kids
When talking about solar power facts for kids, easy tips and games are a great way to connect. Here are our 3 favorite energy conservation tips to share with kids:
- Close the refrigerator door when making a quick snack or pouring a glass of juice. Cold air escapes when you leave the door open, which wastes a lot of electricity.
- Take a short shower instead of a long bath. This will help save energy.
- Plant a tree outside your house to help provide shade and keep your house nice and cool on warm summer days.
Make a game out of finding ways to conserve power at home. Take a walk through the house and turn off lights that may not be in use. Unplug (with mom or dad’s help!) electronics and other devices sucking up energy even while not being used. Close air conditioning/heating vents in rooms or spaces not normally occupied. Make sure windows and doors are closed tight by holding a ribbon up to the edges. If there is not a proper seal, the ribbon will move. See who can take the shortest shower, taking care not to waste water. You could even arrange indoor shade plants around the house. You can read your meters at the end of each day and make a contest to see which days you used the least amount of energy. You can even create your own DIY solar panels just for kids.
Activities and Links to Share with Kids
An American Vision Windows article lists several links with activities, discussions, and information about energy conservation for kids. Energy Star also has an interactive kids site with fun facts, and Alliant Energy offers an energy activity book to download for kids.