Intergenerational Learning About Flood Preparedness

Williams, S. ., McEwen, L. J., & Quinn, N. . (2017). As the climate changes: Intergenerational action-based learning in relation to flood education. The Journal of Environmental Education, 48, 154-171.

With the frequency of flooding increasing in the United Kingdom and around the world, flood-risk management and preparedness has emphasized the need for learning how to live with floods and adapt at local levels. However, children are underrepresented in flood preparedness efforts and undervalued as agents of change. This study explored whether intergenerational learning—specifically, children teaching adults—could be a useful strategy for building household and local community resilience to floods. The researchers developed a flood education resource for children ages 7 to 9 and asked two main questions: First, how did the intervention affect children's learning about flood and flood preparation? Second, did children share what they learned with their families?

The researchers used a “new sociology of childhood” approach, related to participatory methodological theory, to evaluate the effectiveness of their flood education resource. Three ideas underpinned the study: (1) children should be active participants in and benefit from the experience; (2) children should be recognized as a group that can effect change and take action in dealing with 13 climate change; and (3) children should be involved in the research process, including the development of research experiments.

Using this theoretical framework, the researchers worked to collect data in three phases with 68 students from two UK schools in deprived areas. In Phase 1, researchers talked about flood preparedness with groups of children in their classrooms; the children then made “treasure boxes” or flood boxes. The researchers put key flood preparedness information into the finished boxes, which children brought home to their families. For Phase 2, the researchers interviewed each child to explore what they learned from the activity, what they did with their treasure boxes and whether they discussed flood preparedness with their families. Finally, in Phase 3 the researchers conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with 21 parents. The interviews focused on whether they knew about their children's flood preparedness activity and whether any intergenerational learning or changes in family behavior had happened. The researchers interviewed children and parents. The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded initially; the transcripts were then destroyed. The data were then coded a second time to produce final overarching themes.

Children, teachers, and parents all spoke positively about the treasure box activity. Interviews with children revealed that most children recalled flood preparedness information from the activity with a high level of detail. Seventy-five percent of the children reported discussing flood preparedness with their immediate and extended family after the activity. Parental interviews showed that all but one of the parents who were interviewed were aware of the treasure box and flooding activity at school.

Three thematic codes emerged from the study that might hinder or enhance intergenerational learning: empowerment/disempowerment of children within their families, parents' disconnection, and parents' contradiction. Although some parents were open to being educated and influenced by their children, others were not. Some parents viewed the treasure box as simply a school project, disconnected from their own lives, and/ or did not consider flooding as an actual threat to their families. Finally, all parents strongly agreed that children should be taught flooding preparedness, but some were reluctant to talk about flooding with their own children, believing that they were too young or the information was too scary.

The Bottom Line

<p>Age-appropriate, participatory, and creative lessons and activities, such as creating “treasure boxes” filled with flood preparedness information and items, can be effective avenues for teaching young children about flooding and flood preparedness. Children may retain information from and enjoy such experiences; they may also bring that information back to their families. Such intergenerational learning has the potential to positively influence household knowledge of, and behavior around, flood preparedness. However, some families may not want to learn from their children and/or see flooding as a real risk. Further effort might focus on designing informal family-based preparedness programs that highlight the crucial role of children in household preparation and resilience as well as local flood risk levels.</p>