With 60 degree days in February in Boston, trees budding early, and a general sense of impending climate disaster making itself more felt with every passing day, I have started to enter the climate anxiety or eco-anxiety zone. Sarah Lowe, a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at Yale, defines climate anxiety as “distress about climate change and its impacts on the landscape and human existence”1, and Anthony Leiserowitz, the founder and Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and Senior Research Scientist at Yale School of the Environment, says that 27% of Americans say they are very worried about climate change.2

In general I consider myself an optimist and believe in the power of individual actions in tandem with structural/policy changes, but lately have felt increasingly anxious and powerless in regards to the clear signs of climate change and its effects. However, my optimism tends to win out, so I’ve decided to channel my climate anxiety into all of my coursework for this semester–something I’ve decided to refer to as my “climate semester” but also “living my best hippie life.” This semester I’m taking three classes: Museum Education for K-12 Audiences, Exhibition Planning, and Children as Earth Stewards, all of which have seamlessly allowed me to fulfill my goal of making all of my assignments climate change/nature related.

As the course title reveals, the Museum Education for K-12 Audiences class focuses on the vastly diverse audience demographic we refer to as K-12, which typically brings to mind school groups, but includes scout and other youth groups, as well as the adults that come along with these children. The first assignment for the class was to pick a badge from either the Girl or Boy Scouts and then choose a museum and utilize their collections to create a unique and engaging program for the scout group that meets all of the badge’s requirements so that at the end of your program, the scouts will have earned that badge.

I chose to do the Girl Scouts’ “Flowers” badge and pair it with the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA. It was a fun project to research and put together because even though I had prior knowledge of Dickinson’s poetry about flowers or with floral motifs and her love of gardening, I was surprised to find more and more connections between her interests and hobbies and the badge requirements. My interdisciplinary approach prioritized scientific concepts as well as poetry, which included an activity where scouts would sit in the garden behind the Homestead and observe a flower of their choosing for ten minutes, then spend ten minutes composing a poem about or inspired by their flower, then share with the group, if they’re feeling courageous. Though not specifically geared towards inspiring action on climate change, the program I planned for this assignment does foster connection to nature, which is an important step to becoming an advocate for the planet.

As one might have guessed from the title, the Exhibition Planning course is set up so that at the end of the class everyone has planned an exhibition from scratch. The exhibit I’m working on is centered on the connections between picture book art and nature and how those early connections to nature can encourage children to become climate advocates. Given that the exhibit is entirely made up and I can do whatever I want, my make-believe exhibit will be co-curated with children, including exhibit labels. The artwork in the exhibit would be organized into three categories, which are types of depictions of nature based on communities: urban, suburban, and rural. My line of thinking is that if children see nature depicted in their communities they’ll realize that nature is everywhere, that humans are part of nature, and in turn, would feel empowered to advocate for climate solutions in their life. We’re still in the early planning stages, but empowering youth, making room for youth voices in museums, and advocating for climate solutions and nature connection are all things I’m passionate about and art–especially picture book art!–is such a powerful tool for change.

Least museum-y of all is the Children as Earth Stewards class, which is an education course that focuses on ways in which to foster connection to nature and develop children as advocates for the planet. Clearly a topic very up my alley. There are numerous projects I’ll be doing for this class, but one I’m particularly excited about is the eco-literacy project . The eco-literacy project involves choosing a topic about the environment or natural processes (desertification, the water cycle, keystone species, etc.) and a target age group as the audience and then creating an educational material for that audience about that topic. Given the flexibility of the project and my interests, I’m planning to create pre-visit materials (namely a lesson and slideshow) for a class of middle schoolers who are theoretically preparing for a field trip to the Arnold Arboretum. The topic will be keystone plants,3 which is a concept attributed to entomologist Douglas Tallamy, whose research has shown that some genera of plants are the most productive and support the most species, for example, one of Massachusetts’ keystone plants is New England Asters.4 

While I don’t necessarily consider myself an environmentalist, I am happy to have a chance to spend an entire semester thinking of ways that not only I can bring up environmental topics and consider my role in advocating for climate solutions, but also how to bring these topics to my professional work and career. There are so many exciting opportunities to connect environmentalism and sustainability to the museum field and I look forward to continuing to advocate for solutions and youth empowerment when and where I can.

The picture featured at the top of the post is the area above my desk, which I refer to as my “inspiration board.” It has pictures from exhibits I admire, artwork from some of my favorite picture book illustrators, quotes I love, and more!

[1] “Yale Experts Explain Climate Anxiety.” Yale Sustainability, March 13, 2023. https://sustainability.yale.edu/explainers/yale-experts-explain-climate-anxiety.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Container Gardening with Keystones.” Homegrown National Park, November 30, 2023. https://homegrownnationalpark.org/keystone-container-gardening/?gad_source=1#81.

[4] “Container Gardening Keystone Plants List.” Homegrown National Park, n.d. https://hgnp.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/HNP-CONTAINER-GDN-L.2_8.1s.pdf