Disaster Resources - University of Illinois Extension

Children, Stress, and Natural Disasters:
School Activities for Children

Learning about Disasters

Classroom activities or projects focused on learning about disasters and natural phenomena can provide a way of learning and applying math, science, and language skills. Studying the causes and consequences of disasters may also help students understand what may be mysterious or confusing, and provide them with a sense of control.

Here we provide suggestions for projects and activities that teachers can incorporate into their lesson plans. We also provide some examples of curriculum guides that can be useful in the study of disasters.

Curriculum Suggestions

Here are some curriculum suggestions from the Marin County Community Mental Health Services and Santa Cruz County Mental Health. They are adapted and reprinted from:

Lystad, M. (Eds.). (1990). Innovations in Mental Health Services to Disaster Victims (DHHS No. ADM 90-1390). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Language Arts

Have students write about their own experiences in the disaster. Issues as the problems that arise in conveying heavy emotional tone without being overly dramatic might be discussed.

Literature

Have students report on natural disasters in Greek mythology, in American and English literature, in poetry, or in legends and myths of Native American culture and in cultures around the world.

Speech/drama

Have students portray some of the emotions that come up in response to a disaster. Have them develop a skit or play on some aspect of the event. Conduct a debate (for example, resolving: "Women are more psychologically prepared to handle stress than men (or vice-versa)".

Journalism 

Have students write stories that cover different aspects of the disaster. These might include community impact, lawsuits that result from the disaster, human interest stories, geological impact, etc. Issues such as accurate reporting of catastrophic events and sensationalism might be discussed. The stories could be compiled into a special student publication  

Art

Have students portray their experiences of the disaster in various art media. This may be done individually or as a group effort (e.g., mural).

Psychology

Have students apply what they have learned in the course to the emotions, behaviors, and stress reactions they felt or observed during the disaster. Cover post-traumatic stress syndrome. Have a guest speaker from the mental health professions involved in disaster work with victims and emergency workers. Have students discuss (from their own experiences) what has been most helpful in dealing with disaster-related stress. Have students develop educational brochures discussing emotional and behavioral reactions to disaster and things that are helpful in coping with disaster-related stress. Have students conduct a survey among peers or parents: What was the most difficult or dangerous situation that you faced? How did you react to and cope with this situation?

Health

Discuss emotional reactions to disaster and the importance of taking care of one's emotional and physical health. Discuss effects of adrenalin on the body during stress and danger. Discuss health and safety implications of the disaster (e.g., water and food contamination, growth of mildew and mold, etc.) and precautions that should be taken. Invite a guest speaker from Public Health and/or the mental health profession. (See health and safety curriculum in Disaster Preparedness, below).

Science

Topics could include scientific aspects of the disaster (climatic conditions, development of severe weather, geological impact, etc); physiological responses to stress and methods of dealing with it; how birds and animals band together to respond to threatening situations; short and long-range impact of the disaster on the environment.

Math

Have class solve problems related to the impact of the disaster or the recovery effort. For example, build questions around gallons of water lost, cubic feet of earth that moved in a mud slide, amount of pressure on levees or dams, etc.

Social Studies

Study governmental agencies responsible for aid to victims, how they work, how effective they are, and the political implications within the community. Examine the community systems and how the disaster has affected them. Have students invite a local official to discuss disaster precautions, warning systems, and emergency management procedures in your area. Have students explore policies or laws regarding disasters that affect your area.

History

Have students report on natural disasters that have occurred in your community or geographic area and what lessons were learned that can be useful in preparing for future disasters. Have students prepare oral histories by interviewing people who may have experienced an earlier disaster.

Curriculum Guides

There are a number of curriculum guides that provide lesson plans for units on disasters, or that have background information and ideas for activities. Some examples are listed here.

Earthquakes, A Teachers Package for K-6

Target: Grades K-6
Source: FEMA, National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)
Cost: Free from FEMA or $15.00 from NSTA (see below)

Developed by the National Science Teachers Association, this manual is broken into six units and divided into three levels (K- grade 2, grades 3-4, grades 5-6). Lessons are primarily a series of "hands-on" experiences. A set of reproducible masters are provided. Materials available for this program include: * Earthquakes, A Teachers Package for K-6 (FEMA 159)

Available from: FEMA P.O. Box 70274 Washington, D.C. 20024
Distribution is limited to one free copy per school, while supplies last. Send request on school letterhead. Single and multiple copies are also available from NSTA at a cost of $15.00 each.

Send orders to: NSTA, Publications Dept. 1742 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington, DC 20009

Seismic Sleuths - A Teacher's Package on Earthquakes for 7-12

Target: Grades 7-12
Source: FEMA, American Geophysical Union
Cost: Free from FEMA (while supplies last)

An activity-based, self-contained curriculum package developed by the American Geophysical Union to help teachers promote and understanding of the processes that cause earthquakes and the impact of earthquakes on buildings and other structures. It provides educators with information on how to help their students understand how concepts from science, mathematics, and social studies can be applied to reduce earthquake risk through prudent seismic design, construction, land use, and emergency management.

The curriculum is broken into six units. Lessons include a rationale for the activity, focus questions, objectives, list of materials needed, and additional tips on how to present the material.

Materials available for this program include: * Seismic Sleuths - A Teacher's Package on Earthquakes for Grades 7-12 (FEMA 253)

Available from: FEMA P.O. Box 70274 Washington, D.C. 20024 Distribution is limited to one free copy per school, while supplies last. Send request on school letterhead.

Good Apple Curriculum Guides

Target: Grades 7-12
Source: Good Apple, Inc.
Cost: Varies

The following are available from Good Apple Inc. Box 299, Carthage, Il 62321-0299 or by calling (1-217-357-3981).

Deery, Ruth (1985). Earthquakes and Volcanoes.

This book provides classroom materials related to earthquakes and volcanoes. The materials stress reasoning skills with a strong emphasis on the science content. These materials are designed to be used in conjunction with other science text books and materials. The book contains reproducible materials.

Deery, Ruth (1985), Tornadoes & Hurricanes.

This book provides classroom materials related to tornadoes and hurricanes. The materials provided stress reasoning skills with a strong emphasis on the science content. These materials are designed to be used in conjunction with other science text books and materials.

Micallef, M.(1985). Floods & Droughts.

"Floods Droughts is a unit of lessons and activities that provides students with a basic understanding of the causes and consequences of two natural disasters. Children learn about the mythological and historical aspects of floods and droughts, types of floods, flood forecasting systems, and flood safety rules."

Micallef, M., (1985). Storms & Blizzards.

Storms Blizzards is a unit of lessons and activities that provides students with a basic understanding of these two types of weather systems. Children encouraged to independently pursue topics pertaining to their own interests. Materials are reproducible.

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