While Whitney Houston famously told us that the children are our future, those advocating for a clean energy transition also contend that solar power is the future. Both are sage forecasts, and as such, educating children about solar power and its importance must not be overlooked– luckily, many avenues exist for these efforts.
A major inspiration for many people fighting for a future filled with solar power is to leave our children a healthy planet, one with clean air and free from climate change. Such motivation is surely noble, but rather than simply leaving built up solar resources for the next generation, we must also teach children about the how and the why of solar energy. The science of solar power doesn’t have to be mysterious or intimidating to young people, rather many opportunities targeted specifically at children make it immensely simple to show (rather than tell) just how normal and beneficial solar energy is in the world of today and tomorrow.
Let’s examine a few opportunities that have integrated solar power to capture the attention of the solar enthusiasts of tomorrow.
Disney World Solar Installation
Photo Source: NY Times
Through a combination of great marketing and parental nostalgia, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, has remained the premier vacation destination children (and Super Bowl MVPs) clamor to visit. The magic of Disney World has spanned generations, and the people working behind the scenes want to let that continue for future generations through their pledge to fight climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2020.
As a part of that pledge, in 2018 Disney World unveiled a 270-acre, 50-megawatt solar power array that could power two of their parks when operating at full utilization. The solar installation is located right outside of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and, like many parts of Disney’s theme parks, it’s built in the shape of giant Mickey Mouse ears.
Not only are the executives of Disney shrewd enough to recognize the financial benefits of installing solar generation, but they also know that their parks operate with a unique ability to shape the outlook of its young visitors. Disney World has long looked to fulfill Walt Disney’s vision to not only look forward to the future, but to play a part in building that futuristic world of tomorrow– as shown with Disney’s own desire to build the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). As this vision for the future evolves, solar power is a key aspect of any plan for the coming years. Most importantly, as with the rides and features of various parks that are meant to teach children about the importance of energy and conservation, this solar power installation is both practical and educational.
You can just envision families driving up to Disney World and children seeing this playfully-shaped solar power installation, sparking their natural curiosity. By creating yet another opportunity for parents to have conversations with their children about what solar power is and why renewable energy is important, this type of solar installation might just inspire the imaginations of future solar engineers or prompt them to ask their parents whey they don’t have solar panels at home.
Solar Panels on Gingerbread Houses
Photo Source: NY Times
The past decade has seen a relative explosion in the ubiquity of solar power on rooftops and on the power grid, and with it has come an unexpected correlative trend: the ‘installation’ of solar panels on gingerbread houses.
During recent Christmas seasons, those looking to make rooftop solar a fun topic on children’s radars have recognized the ease of doing so using gingerbread houses. Kids inherently love the construction projects that bring together cookies, candy, and frosting, but such endeavors can also create teachable moments for parents and teachers surrounding solar power.
A quick Google search will reveal plenty of examples of clean energy enthusiasts creating such gingerbread houses, with the trend even resulting in the annual Essex County Environmental Center’s Sustainable Homes and Habitats Gingerbread Contest. This fun competition brings together gingerbread house builders, young and old, by challenging them to include at least three identifiable sustainable building elements– with candy solar panels on the roof often being a key component on many entries.
By creatively integrating solar PV on gingerbread houses– whether using chocolate, fruit bars, or even seaweed– children can again find opportunities to ask questions and learn about solar panels in a way that sometimes only happens with hands-on projects.
Educational Videos about Solar
Photo Source: Visual Rhetoric Blog
One of the beautiful aspects of modern educational entertainment created for children is that, when done right, they may not even realize they’re learning. Integrating important topics into programming that children watch regularly is a time-honored strategy, and sustainability-related topics are no exception.
Growing up, the educational shows I would clamor for in the classroom included the Magic School Bus, Captain Planet, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Luckily for me (and perhaps these played a small role in my current career in clean energy), each of these programs had episodes discussing solar energy. The ‘Getting Energized’ episode of the Magic School Bus saw the children use solar power to get out of a tricky situation, the ‘Isle of Solar Energy’ episode of Captain Planet touted that “we could build solar panels, hot water heaters, even solar cars…The more we shift to solar power, the healthier our planet will be,” and the Bill Nye (who today is a notable investor in solar companies) episode ‘Electricity’ taught that solar cells can change light into usable energy.
But these shows are from my childhood, so I can already hear today’s children scoffing at the ancient TV tastes. The insatiable modern palettes of the youth of today for video content, though, can also find great solar edu-tainment:
The Fixies is a YouTube series billed as one following “the comical misadventures of Tom Thomas and his secret friendship with Simka and Nolik, the chlidren of the Fixie [author note: think fairies + pixies but with STEM skills] family that lives in his apartment. In one episode, they create a solar battery to solve their puzzle.
Ready Jet Go is a PBS Kids cartoon that sneakily teaches kids about science while entertaining them, including one episode where the gang races solar-powered cars.
Planet Bonehead is another YouTube cartoon series, with this one focusing entirely on current environmental issues and green technology that talks to kids and “empowers them to act now and make planet Earth a great place to live.” Many renewable energy topics of course come up, including an episode about solar batteries for kids and another episode called The Cannonball Run Race for Renewable Energy.
These are just a few examples, with parents being able to research and find even more fun educational (and entertaining) videos that their kids will want to watch that will also teach them about solar power.
Solar Powered Toys
Photo Source: Fractus Learning
Many companies manufacture toys with the goal of getting solar PV technology in kids’ hands, allowing for direct learning. The wide variety of solar-related toys parents can buy reflects the various interests and styles of learning children may have.
Sometimes these toys take the form of more traditional science kits for children, which can be used in schools or at home. These kits tell kids up front they’re going to be learning science, which for the right child can be extremely exciting. For example, one science kit might include various knickknacks to be powered with a small solar cell to show the possibilities of harnessing energy from the sun, while others provide bigger tasks the solar cells can accomplish for inclusion in a science fair, such as solar-powered remote control cars or solar-powered robots.
Other children, though, might resist such obvious attempts from educational toys to teach them. For these stubborn children, you can sneak in the learning on solar topics through toys they’ll want to play with that just happen to embrace solar PV principles. Take, for example, the OWI Solar Space Fleet— this solar-powered kit is disguised as cool spaces toys like a shuttle, space station, astronaut, space rover, and more. The science-resistant kid will just find these sci-fi looking toys fun to play with, not even registering that the ability of them to be powered by the sun is not only really cool but also educational.
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates the Chester Energy and Policy blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.