by Jen Henderson, freelance journalist and weather expert.
As a storm chaser and weather safety expert, I get all kinds of questions about the best way to teach children to appreciate weather and to understand the dangers and risks involved with storms. Two of the most important suggestions I make are to talk to kids often about weather safety and to educate them about the facts. As most adults know, knowledge is power. By researching the facts and helping children understand the reality of how storms work, parents can give them the tools to differentiate between real and perceived threats.
Below are some fun activities that teach their children about the different ways to enjoy and understand our weather.
- Read a book. Try one of these books about severe weather and answer any questions that come up—or better yet, have kids help you find the answers online. Good choices include Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco, Night of the Twisters byIvy Ruckman, Wild Weather: Lightning by Lorraine Jean Hopping, Winter Thunder by Mari Sandoz, The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard by Marty Rhodes Figley, or Storms bySusan Canizares and Betsey Chessen.
- Go online. There are quite a few kid-friendly weather websites that provide wonderful activities about the science behind clouds, storms, and tornadoes. Many offer interactive websites with cloud charts, quizzes, experiments, and games, all to encourage the young and curious to explore the skies.
- Web Weather for Kids: http://eo.ucar.edu/webweather/thunderhome.html
- Weather Wiz Kids: http://www.weatherwizkids.com/
- Playtime for Kids: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/reachout/kidspage.shtml.
- Pop in a movie. Believe it or not, clouds and storms are key characters in many movies. Sony Pictures Animation film “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” which chronicles a lovable scientist and his weather/food inventions, or the five-minute Pixar short “Partly Cloudy,” which highlights an unlucky (but adorable) cloud who fashions the trickiest animal infants for a stork to deliver, are as entertaining as they are educational. For teenage weather connoisseurs, try “Twister” or “Night of the Twisters.”
- Visit a museum. Check your local science museum or discovery center to see if they have an exhibit on weather. Many do. Can’t find a museum exhibit? Invite a meteorologist from your local weather station to visit your child’s class. Most stations have an outreach expert responsible for community and school presentations who will be happy to help.
- Create a Quiz. I often turn knowledge into a game—it’s surprising how many kids want to demonstrate just how much they do know! For a cloud wheel template that helps kids learn to identify the different kinds of clouds, visit the National Weather Service at http://www.srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/synoptic/ll_clouds1.htm.
Example quiz: Based on these descriptions of clouds, can you guess which cloud photo is which type?
- Cirrus, which is Latin for hair. These are wispy, hair-like clouds that occur at the highest parts of the atmosphere. Made primarily of ice crystals, their hooked strands often indicate upper wind direction.
- Cumulus, which is Latin for heaps. These are what most people think of when they imagine clouds, those puffy, cotton-like shapes that we all love. Created by convection and composed mainly of water droplets, they can indicate fair weather or transform into rainclouds.
- Stratus, which is Latin for layers. These clouds are usually found closest to the earth, forming a sort of blanket in the sky (think of fog or the haze of a rainy day), but they can also mean layers of any of the other cloud types: cirrostratus or stratocumulous, for example.
If your child is afraid of severe weather, try the following tips:
- Encourage your kids to talk about what’s bothering them. If they have trouble getting started, use toys such as fire trucks, ambulances, building blocks, puppets, and dolls that encourage play reenactment of their experiences and observations. Or let children do a mural on long paper or draw pictures about storms.
- Let your children see that severe weather is scary for adults, too. Parents should talk about their feelings openly and honestly, admitting that storms can be very scary but that they will do everything you can to keep their kids safe.
- Create a family emergency plan, which will help parents talk to their kids about what to do during severe weather. Put together a weather kit and stash it in the basement or closet. Include a board game, snacks, scented candles, relaxing music CDs, and some comfy blankets and pillows.
Bio: Jen Henderson is a freelance journalist and weather safety expert in southwest Virginia. She regularly co-leads a group of Virginia Tech students on a field trip across the Great Plains to chase storms; so far, she’s traveled more than 13,000 miles and has seen 10 tornadoes. For other articles about weather safety tips and activities, please visit, http://jenhenderson.com/wordpress.