How children's books scientifically described climate change?

Çiçek Apaydin S., Sari Uğurlu B.

Xth International Eurasion Educational Research Congress, Ankara, Turkey, 8 - 11 June 2023, pp.1-4

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Unpublished
  • City: Ankara
  • Country: Turkey
  • Page Numbers: pp.1-4
  • Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University Affiliated: Yes


Climate change is showing its effects more and more every day. We frequently hear news such as extreme weather events, floods, storms, drought, and water scarcity worldwide. These extreme natural events could cause poverty, hunger, and inequality. So, we could say that humanity is in a crisis. Unfortunately, children are most affected by the crisis. In their report entitled The climate crisis is a child rights crisis, UNICEF states that more than a third of children worldwide are exposed to heat waves, and water scarcity, approximately one in seven children to floods, and nine out of 10 children to air pollution (UNICEF, 2021). According to the same report, almost all (99%) children had to face at least one significant climate, environmental hazard, shock, and stress. Although these data are depressing, it is necessary to combat climate change, be aware of its effects, and take action to mitigate it by taking the necessary precautions.

For this reason, in 2015, world leaders agreed to seventeen global goals to build a greener, fairer, and better world by 2030 (global goals). One of these global goals is climate action, which means taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. With the help of improved education, awareness-raising, and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning, building the knowledge and ability to meet climate change is a target under the climate action goal. In other words, education is crucial to promote climate action (UNESCO, n.d.).

The importance of education in the combat against climate change is undeniable. However, researchers and educators are now discussing what kind of education should be in action against climate change and which curriculum is the best. From what age group this education will start is also controversial. Some argue that children might feel stressed or anxious learning about climate change. On the other hand, based on their experience, Bahri & Lamba, (2022), expressed that teaching these complex topics through play and using a positive, solutions-focused approach can allow children to learn about these topics in their early years without creating anxiety. They underlined that when they teach about climate change, even the youngest children do not feel anxiety but instead feel empowered and excited about their role as Earth Warriors to protect the planet. In its report for parents, (UNICEF, n.d.) recommended that parents help children discover the truth about climate change, know they are not alone, and find ways to take action. UNESCO (2010) advocated that climate change awareness and understanding at a young age is ultimately the best way to change behaviors and attitudes. For these reasons, even preschool teachers should realistically explain climate change to preschool children.

How to provide education on climate change for early childhood children is among the newly discussed topics. While these discussions continue, one of the essential materials to introduce scientific issues such as climate change is undoubtedly children’s books. Children’s books may be the first source where children encounter scientific concepts (Barlow, 1991). Based on their teaching experience, Ansberry & Morgan (2015) emphasized the benefits of using picture books to engage students in inquiry and increase their understanding of science. On the other hand, studies show that science-related children’s books contribute to good science learning and contain scientific errors (Rice, 2002). In addition, Saçkes et al. (2009) reviewed 73 children’s books and concluded that many books include misconceptions. Now, choosing a scientifically appropriate book is in teachers’ responsibility. However, research has shown that all early childhood teachers do not have sufficient science concept knowledge (Barenthien et al., 2020; Kallery & Psillos, 2001; Saçkes, 2014) to choose a scientifically appropriate book. In this case, the responsibility falls on educators and scientists (Schussler, 2008).

Some researchers have reviewed children’s books on climate change. In recent research, Benevento (2023) analyzed nine books and concluded that climate change books must present more information and better address the human impacts of the climate crisis. Boggs et al. (2016) presented a set of criteria to be applied by early childhood educators to evaluate the quality of climate change books. The authors of this proposal have just been reviewing picturebooks of climate change in terms of their narrative elements and scientific accuracy based on these criteria (in review). They found a clear need for picturebooks that deal with climate change more carefully, which would require the cooperation of many experts. Unlike the previously mentioned research, researchers focus on the books’ scientific content in this research. In addition, only picturebooks were analyzed in the previous research. This research expands the age range, includes all children’s books for early childhood (3-8 years old), and focuses mainly on text rather than illustrations.

As a result, this research aims to examine early childhood children’s books about climate change in terms of their scientific content. The research questions are as follows:

  1. How do children’s books use scientific language?
  2. How is climate change described in children’s books?
  3. What potential misconceptions, if any, about climate change may be fostered by reading these books?

The research is qualitative in nature because we, as researchers, approach research questions inductively. At this point, the researcher conducted a qualitative content analysis. Content analysis facilitates detailed and systematic examination and interpretation of the materials (Lune & Berg, 2017). Krippendorff (2017) defined content analysis as a research technique that helps to make reproducible and valid inferences from texts about the contexts of their use. The essence of work, in this study, children’s books on climate change were analyzed in a detailed and systematic way to make valid and reproducible inferences.

In order to analyze the books in the research, we examined the most used shopping websites in Turkey. These websites, such as Trendyol, Hepsiburada, and Amazon, have particular categories for children’s books. Under these categories, we searched with concepts such as climate, climate change, and global warming. Books that met the following criteria were selected:

  1. Published and currently accessible
  2. The title or cover of the book reveals that the book’s theme is the climate/climate change
  3. Published in Turkish
  4. Recommended for children in the age range of 3-8 years

As a result of the search on websites, we bought 80 children’s books. We examined the books individually and eliminated the books we thought were unsuitable for the target age group and the activity books. Since we focused on climate change in our research, we also excluded books that did not explicitly mention climate change on the cover or in the content. As a result, we identified 13 books for review. Bernard, Wutich, and Ryan (2017) noted that the first task in analyzing text is discovering themes and subthemes. These themes, they explained, may be obtained from either the data (induced codes) or a literature review (deduced codes). In the present study, themes were inductively obtained from climate change books. In order to find answers to the research questions listed above, open coding of the books was performed in Microsoft Excel sentence by sentence. Similar codes were compiled in this open coding process, and categories were created.

The findings obtained in the research, which sought answers to three research questions, will be presented under three headings as scientific terms and explanations, portraying climate change and misconceptions. Regarding scientific terms and explanations, it is seen that more than fifty scientific terms are included in the books, but only fourteen of them are explained. The books do not explain climate change and global warming except for one. When we look at how climate change is explained, we see a story setup in which some changes are observed, these changes have some effects, the reasons for the changes, and suggestions to combat the changes. Several changes that can be observed or noticed in the story setup of the books are melting of glaciers, warming of the planet, increasing greenhouse gases, increasing consumption, evident deterioration, pollution, and climate change. In the books, information is given about what kind of changes took place, the effects of these changes, and the reasons for the changes. Gas emissions, fossil fuel use, the Sun, cows, and humans are expressed as the causes of change. In some of the children’s books, suggestions are given to combat changes, and in some, the actions of the book heroes were explained. Alternative ways of transportation, saving electricity, saving water, saving energy, and saving papers are example of these suggestions. Also, the importance of using alternative energy sources is noticed. Some of the books contain information that is outside the scientific explanations, which may cause misconceptions.