With all the beautiful weather we’ve been experiencing in Connecticut this September, the extreme weather occurring in other regions of our country may be especially distant in the minds of our students. Additionally, the extent to which students are developmentally prepared to grapple with these calamities will depend on their ages and stages. Regardless, there are developmentally appropriate ways for children across all grade levels to practice becoming engaged, active citizens – especially when experiences are anchored in an authentic, meaningful context that connects content and skills with children’s interests.

Enter the focus group topics for this past summer’s participants: Land and Water (4th-6th grade group), Oceans (2nd and 3rd grade), Building (kindergarten and 1st), and Gardens and Natural Spaces (preschool). Can you imagine how these studies might help your students connect to and understand the hurricanes occurring in other regions? Have you already done some work in your classrooms around relief efforts or learning about extreme weather? Could this help you jump start your study of land and water, building, etc. in a meaningful way? If so, we would love to hear about your work and share with others. Please describe what you’ve done in the comments section, or contact Katy at kbseedlingseducator@gmail.com.

Here are some thoughts and resources to support you:

  • Each group developed a potential essential question to guide their study – could your essential question address issues around the hurricanes?
    • The 4th-6th grade groups’ question was “How do we shape and how are we shaped by our environment?” Could this be extended to “How are people in other regions of our country currently being shaped by their environment?” Or, as a sub-question: “How does water change the land?”
    • The K/1 group’s question was “How does where we live affect what, how, and why we build?” There are places right along the Connecticut shoreline from Greenwich to East Haven that illustrate different ways of building in response to extreme weather post-Hurricane Sandy. How are these structures similar to or different from those in Texas, Florida, or Puerto Rico?
  • Harness the power of design challenges. Remember how engaging and fun it was to collaborate with your focus group around building a structure that could hold a book using only the materials that were given to you? This is a perfect time of year to introduce such design challenges. They are opportunities to build community while also setting the tone for the type of learning that will be occurring in your classroom: collaborative, engaging, fun, authentic. Are there design challenges that could help your students develop empathy for the plight of people in hurricane-stricken regions? Challenges that empower students to consider what they could do to support relief efforts? Or challenges that engage students in problem-solving and designing for the future?
    • The Ocean group developed the essential question, “What is the interplay between humans and the oceans?” and imagined that a study of boats might be an important part of their investigation. As President Trump recently said, Puerto Rico “is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. And it’s a big ocean.” Learn about the most pressing needs of people living in Puerto Rico at this time. Consider the constraints in meeting those needs. Design a vehicle or vessel that would most effectively address the needs and challenges of Puerto Ricans post-Hurricane Maria.
    • Design a structure using only _____ that could successfully withstand the effects of hurricanes.
  • Projects, social studies, and activism. Make sure the learning that occurs includes actionable steps toward helping those in need that are appropriate for your grade level. We also want to teach our students that engaged citizenship means finding out about the real needs of those we intend to help, rather than making our own assumptions. This requires some understanding of the social issues surrounding natural disasters, and ideally, relationships with the people experiencing the effects.
    • Do you have personal relationships with schools or teachers affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria? If possible, establish pen pal relationships with students in these areas so your students can learn first-hand about their situation and needs while forging their own relationships.
    • For the youngest children who have a difficult time distinguishing between fantasy and reality and near and far, learning about the devastating effects of hurricanes on human lives might be inappropriate both cognitively and emotionally if they are not already aware of the events. However, young children empathize with animals and naturally identify with them, and may be better equipped to learn about the current hurricanes through their plight of animals. The PreK groups’ essential question, “How do we care for living things and how do they care for us?” could lead into a discussion of how people are helping the animals affected by these hurricanes. Visit or invite a representative from your local Humane Society chapter or shelter to find out about how to support their efforts in helping animals.
    • Engage your students in primary source research and interviews. If your school is in or near a community that was affected by Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, establish relationships with people who lived through these events and invite students to find out their stories. How does this inform their thinking about the needs of citizens living through the recent hurricanes?
    • Schools from Miami to New York to Waterbury are preparing to enroll students from Puerto Rico. Share this information with your students and see what questions and ideas are generated as a result.
    • For older students who are starting to develop abstract thinking skills, compare and contrast the ways our government has responded to hurricanes current and past. What were/are some of the unique social/environmental/geographic circumstances surrounding some of the biggest hurricanes and how did these factors impact responses from citizens and government? Puerto Rico is indeed in the middle of the ocean. Are there are factors that have contributed to the delay in aid? Using the knowledge they have gained, invite students to write letters to political representatives.
    • Find out what you yourself can do as a teacher to help with hurricane relief. See this article published in Education Week after Hurricane Harvey.
  • Connect with local resources