University of Illinois Extension
Disaster Resources - University of Illinois Extension

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


There are a number of different kinds of activities that teachers can use in a classroom to prepare for or recover from a disaster. In general (and depending on the age of students), teachers can:

  • Conduct classroom activities that can help children cope with the trauma of a disaster or its aftermath by sharing their experiences and expressing their fears or concerns.
  • Conduct study projects or multidisciplinary units focused on disasters as a way of integrating learning across the curriculum. Students can learn and apply math, science, and language skills in exploring the causes and consequences of natural disasters.
  • Introduce units on disaster preparedness or health and safety to give students a sense of competence, confidence, and control in being able to handle disasters in the future
  • Organize or encourage service projects that give children the opportunity to use their skills and to help their family, school, or community prepare for or recover from natural disasters.

The process of expressing feelings and experiences, learning about the causes of disasters, and preparing for future events can give children a sense of understanding, coherence, and control or things that seem chaotic and or confusing. Doing meaningful work and helping others during a disaster might also give them a sense of mastery or keep them from feeling helpless and victimized.

In this guide, we provide suggestions for activities that can be used in the classroom and include information on resources that can be obtained at little or no cost.

The table below summarizes some of the kinds of activities that are appropriate for children of different ages.

Classroom Activities to Help Children Express Feelings

  • Preschool and Elementary School Activities
  • Middle School/Junior High - High School Activities

Learning about Disasters

  • Curriculum Suggestions
  • Curriculum Guides

Disaster Preparedness

  • Curriculum Suggestions
  • Curriculum Guides

Service Projects

Helping others or contributing to disaster recovery or preparedness work in meaningful ways can be a good way to help overcome feelings of helplessness or frustration that is common among disaster victims. Depending on their ages, there are a variety of things students can do to actively contribute to their family, school, and community. For example, teachers could:

  • Conduct a class discussion or support a class project on how students might contribute to a community recovery or preparedness effort. It is important to help them develop concrete and realistic ways to be of assistance. Depending on their age, try as much as possible to have them come up with ideas and/or work at organizing the effort so that it is "their" project.
    For example, eighth graders in Austin Middle School (Texas) surveyed residents who would might additional help in the event the town needed to be evacuated because of flood. They designed a special placard that residents could place into their windows if they needed special assistance to evacuate.
  • Students might also perform some kind of service for younger children in their school, or in area childcare facilities. For example, they could create and perform puppet plays on the themes of coping with disaster.
  • Finally, students can organize projects to support students or communities in other areas who might have been struck by disaster. For example, using lessons learned from their own experience of being helped, students can figure out ways of helping that would be most useful for others their age.

Additional Resources

  • Activities That Promote the Sharing of Experiences and Expression of Feelings
  • Bibliography of Children's Literature on Floods and Natural Disasters
  • Bibliography, Activities, and Links from the GNN Education Center
  • Resources Available from the American Red Cross

A Guide for Teachers

Go to Part I: A Guide for Teachers

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