Intersections of Art and Science

From Jane to the Octonauts, Children’s TV is Taking on the Climate Crisis – Grist Magazine

Screenshot from trailer for the children's show JANE, streaming on AppleTV via Youtube
Screenshot from trailer for the children's show JANE, streaming on AppleTV via Youtube.


Experts say these shows can help parents talk about a thorny subject — and inspire hope.

Olivia Dreizen Howell wasn’t seeking out a climate lesson when she and her kids, aged 7 and 9, tuned into Molly of Denali, a popular children’s show on PBS. 

But there it was: Molly, a 10-year-old Alaska Native and vlogger from the fictional village of Qyah, goes with her friends to visit an old clubhouse. Upon arriving, they find it has begun to sink into the ground.  The episode, “Not So Permafrost,” follows Molly as she uncovers why her refuge is sinking in the first place. It served as an unexpected opening for Dreizen Howell and her family to discuss the climate crisis.

“It helped us to talk about different cultures, how climate change impacts cold climates and how we can combat it,” said Dreizen Howell, who lives in Huntington, New York.

Like many parents, Dreizen Howell worries for her children’s future on a hotter planet. By the time her children are in their thirties, New York will have, on average, 57 days above 90 degrees per year, compared to 18 on average today.

But outside of talking about science lessons at their Montessori school, she hadn’t discussed the crisis with them.

“The show helped us discuss it,” Dreizen Howell says. “We watched the show at night before bed, and it was a nice moment to talk about how the earth is different now and what we can do to help keep our planet going strong.”

Increasingly, children’s programs are taking on the climate crisis. In April, Apple TV released Jane, a show about a young environmentalist who idolizes Jane Goodall and tracks down endangered species. On Netflix’s Octonauts: Above and Beyond, the titular team travels the world protecting animals and habitats from a changing climate. Other shows like Sesame Street and PBS’s City Island have also aired climate-related episodes.

Experts say shows like these can help families find the language to discuss a stressful subject.

“We need to be talking about [the climate crisis], and programming can be a way for parents to ask questions about what kids observed in the show and see what comes up,” said Erica Smithwick, a professor at Pennsylvania State University and member of Science Moms, an advocacy group…

Go behind the scenes with Princess Daazhraii Johnson and Dorthea Gillim, just two of the minds behind Molly of Denali on PBS KIDS.

Watch more Molly of Denali at


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