Street Art: Children’s Voices and Climate Action

Street Art: Children’s Voices and Climate Action

Inspiring case studies from schools in Ōtautahi

Written by Sian Carvell, Future Curious Limited. First published April 2023 and updated in April 2024

Sian is a trained teacher who has worked with children, teachers, mana whenua, local and central government and the wider community to learn about and take action for climate change. She led the creation and pilot phase of the Climate Change Learning Programme,  Huringa Āhuarangi: whakareri mai kia haumaru āpōpō, which continues to inform her work empowering children and young people in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

This spotlight draws on inspiring stories from three schools to highlight the importance of creativity, student agency and wellbeing in our learning programmes and response to climate change in our local communities. You can watch this short video, produced in 2024, for a preview of the completed murals and reflections from some of the ākonga involved.

Voices of Children and Young People

A resilient response to a changing climate will require thinking altruistically and acting collectively. We all play a part in what is happening now, and we are all responsible for what happens next. For children and young people in particular there is a clear sense of urgency. The planning and decisions that are being undertaken now will impact them the most, therefore, their investment – in the problem and in the solutions – is greater. 

The voices of children and young people are critical within a national and global response to climate change.
Governors Bay School ‘We can fix it up!’ team.

However, there can be an element of apprehension engaging with children and young people about climate change. Not only is the science complex, equally so are the causes and solutions. How do we mitigate and adapt to current and future impacts of climate change, while ensuring the required transitions are just and equitable?

As decision makers grapple with this ‘wicked problem’, many, including children and young people, are frustrated about the (perceived) lack of urgency and action. Others are pushing back against the changes needed to avoid catastrophic temperature rise.

For some children and young people, this lack of urgency and resistance is just as challenging to their wellbeing as the experienced and predicted impacts of climate change.

When it comes to how we collectively respond to the climate crisis, as a key stakeholder, children have the right to be heard, considered, and respected. It is therefore important that opportunities for children and young people to share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings about climate change are supported.

Climate, Wellbeing and the Arts

Many ākonga and their kaiako have shared the need and want for climate change education (CCE). This includes a CCE approach that is integrated and involves connecting with nature, immersing in the sciences, and expressing their thoughts and ideas through the Arts.

I love it when I am surrounded by nature. I love to swim in the ocean, rivers. I love to play and observe trees and wildlife. But I will NEVER be happy if we keep on making this climate mistake!” 

– Yr. 8 student, Lyttelton Primary

The Arts play an important role when learning about and responding to climate change. Not only do they provide a creative avenue to share the causes, impacts and solutions, but they also play an important role in improving wellbeing and strengthening children’s connection to place and nature (Wilson, 2011).

Research has shown that the Arts support children and young people to process and recover from (actual and perceived) traumatic events and can facilitate wellbeing. Arts-based activities are particularly helpful for those who struggle to express themselves verbally (Mutch & Latai, 2019).

Read Te Tai Unuora | Climate Wellbeing guide to find out more.

Climate Action in Whakaraupō, Ōtautahi 

Since mid-2020, as part of their Coastal Hazards Adaptation Planning Programme (CHAPP) and with support from Future Curious Limited, the Christchurch City Council have been working with low lying coastal schools in the Ōtautahi district. More recently, as the first community for focussed adaptation planning, the Council have been engaging with communities in Whakaraupō Lyttelton-Mt Herbert Adaptation Area. This included extending their engagement with three local schools: Diamond Harbour, Governors Bay and Lyttelton. 

As part of the council’s approach, the schools had already taken part in the Climate Change learning programme, received support with inquiries, and engaged in relevant local and national decision making. 

We Asked to be Heard’ is a new short film that shines a spotlight on how children in Ōtautahi-Christchurch are influencing local climate change planning and decision making.

Visual Arts: Street Art Projects

Building on their climate wisdom and to help inform the wider community about the ‘anticipated climate change adaptation’ scenarios related to sea level rise and flooding in Whakaraupō, the Council invited groups within the schools to create community based visual cues in the form of street art murals. This involved exploring their relationship with the coast, considering community assets and associated values that may be impacted by climate change and coastal hazard impacts.

The groups shared Whakaraupō values:

  • Sailing and seeing the boats coming in and out
  • Living close to the sea, hills, and nature
  • Jumping off the wharf and jetty into the sea
  • Going on the ferry and not having to pay to go swimming
  • Our community culture, just about knowing everyone! It feels connected and safe
  • The many walkways around the harbour

A key message that all three schools wanted to share through their mural was that through choice, we have hope. That, as the species who created the problem, we also have the opportunity to be the ones that can fix it up. If we work together and make climate positive choices, there is still hope; if we don’t, less so. 

Governors Bay School Mural

Name: We can Fix It Up!       Team: Seven Year 7-8 ākonga

Location: Community Swimming Pool, completed December 2022

Photo: Mural design from students at Governors Bay School

Key Messages:

  • The storm is coming, and we can’t avoid it
  • We need to save our oceans
  • We cannot keep ignoring climate change
  • We don’t rule nature, nature rules us
  • We are part of nature
  • We can all help

How could climate change and sea level rise affect the things we value?
It could affect the beaches and make the summer day unbearably hot; Sea level rise could destroy the walking tracks and the jetty; The track could get submerged in water; dolphins and sea life could leave or die because of polluted water; birds could lose lots of their homes to people cutting down trees for space to rebuild.

“Climate change is a really big thing for everyone, and we believe that it is important that the people in our community know what is going on. Our mural will help raise awareness about sea level rise in our bay.” - Yr.8, Governors Bay School

How could we adapt? Change where you live; build houses that are buoyant and move to higher ground; make the jetty higher.

Photos: Governors Bay School students painting, and the completed mural at Governors Bay community swimming pool

Diamond Harbour School Mural

Name: Rain Whisperers       Team: Four Year 6-8 ākonga 

Location: Diamond Harbour Wharf (Shed). Completed in Term Four, 2023

Completed mural at Diamond Harbour Wharf

     Key Messages

  • We need to start talking first, before it is too late
  • The key is working with the people
  • Without the natural environment, we would not be able to live
  • Imagine yourself as another living thing - how would you be feeling right now?
  • We love the rain and rain is life

“After seeing our mural, we want a balance - not too hopeful that they think it isn’t a big deal BUT not so worried they feel they can’t do anything, and it is all too late anyway.”

– Rain Whisperers, Diamond Harbour School

How could climate change and sea level rise affect the things we value?
Climate change could make the sea warm; Marine life might find it too warm to live in the warming water and leave or die; People will need more things to cope and therefore would cut down more trees and ruin native bird homes; The rising sea levels might wash the tracks away; We will need to help the animals and also the houses that live close to the sea.

The below message from the Rain Whisperers will be placed by their mural.

There is still hope through positive changes.

This is our chance to change global warming, to change our future.

Understand, you are not the person who should be afraid, you should be the person who is hope, who matters in this new step.

Think of this as the world’s biggest challenge that we must complete.

And accept that all animals matter as much as we do.

This is something you want to change without being forced to change.

Photos: Student mural designs from Diamond Harbour School

Lyttelton Primary School Mural

Name: Nature Rangers         Team: 18 Year 5-8 ākonga  

Location: Community Steps, completed Term Three 2023

Above: The completed mural 'Pick your Path'


Key Messages:

  • Protect our environment, especially the animals, sea and hills
  • Respect what brings life to nature
  • Look after the sea life
  • We need to restore the balance and return the forces of nature within us
  • Love all of the world around you

How could climate change and sea level rise affect the things we value?
The sea will rise and flood the land; it will take away homes and other animal’s homes as well; The sea could become polluted making it harder to sail and play in and around; it would also not be great for the marine animals; It could affect our health and wellbeing; It could erode the hills; There will be more extreme weather like storms and droughts; Coastal walks and caves will be destroyed. 

How could we adapt? To adapt we need to plan; do lots of planting; build natural seawalls; think about how we build our houses and where we build them; look at ways we can protect the animals and where they live; we need to all start talking and planning together; let go of some of the things we don’t really need or do it differently.

The students worked together to create a collaborative design for the steps.

”We would like to present two scenarios for Whakaraupō and climate change aka ‘Pick your path’. Each scenario is dependent on the choices we all make now.”
     Planning for Nature Agent’s collective image for mural design on community steps

According to the Nature Rangers, the three ‘C’s’ for a successful group mural are: Communicate, collaborate and compromise!

“I love Lyttelton and care about our future, so this mural helps climate change by altering people’s thoughts about climate change and therefore, making a special change.”
– Yr. 7, Lyttelton School

These diverse experiences demonstrate the value of genuine student-led processes, both for the children and young people involved, and for those fortunate enough to work with them and learn from their work. They also highlight the need to be patient and flexible within the constraints that the real world presents, in and out of the school grounds! 


Thank you to the ākonga and kaiako from Governors Bay School, Diamond Harbour School and Lyttelton Primary School for allowing us to share your ideas and stories. And to Reuben Woods from ‘Watch This Space’ for his inspiration and expertise in all things urban art. We also appreciate the ongoing support from the Christchurch City Council, to ensure these plans are translated into action and that our children and young people feel heard. 

NZAEE would like to thank Sian for her generosity in sharing her experiences and resources with our community of educators, so that others can be inspired to take meaningful actions in their part of Aotearoa.

Main image caption: Celebrating the completed mural by Governors Bay School students at the community swimming pool. 

All images taken by Sian Carvell.

Related Content and Learning

Watch Sian Carvell, Jenny Ritchie and student Keegan Verster discussing the climate learning programme in this recording from our 2022 national conference: Climate Change Education and Wellbeing (30 mins)

Read our Climate Hope spotlight, which includes links to recent articles and research about climate adaptation and mitigation, including climate education. 

Watch our Climate Education webinar recording from last year, with guest speakers Rachel Bolstad and teachers from Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery secondary school.

References from Sian’s story:

Mutch, C., & Latai, L. (2019). Creativity beyond the formal curriculum: arts-based interventions in post-disaster trauma settings. Pastoral Care in Education, 37(3), 230-256.

Wilson, Carla (2011). Effective approaches to connect children with nature. Department of Conservation, NZ Government.