Teaching Kids About Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Japan Through Online Resources

March 13, 2011 5 Comments »
Teaching Kids About Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Japan Through Online Resources

Japan - Kyoto
With the Japanese earthquake and after effects of the tsunamis occupying media broadcasts and the day’s top headlines, it’s hard to avoid updates on this current event but there are ways to teach your kids about tsunamis, earthquakes, and how to help those in Japan in age appropriate ways that will educate without instilling fear.I’ve sifted through numerous pages and broken links to curate sites I’d share with my children help establish background information about the current events in Japan. 
Just as with all of the resources I share, be sure to take a look at each link yourself to determine what is most age appropriate for your kids.  Then sit down as a family to look at the links.  Be available to answer any questions that arise.  If your child asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, do a Google search when they are not with you. A plethora of devastating pictures exists and you may want to filter out some content rather than pulling up searches right in front of them. 
Here are some useful links that will help teach world geography, the science behind tsunamis and earthquakes, talking to your kids about disasters, and also how your family can lend a hand with efforts occurring on the other side of the globe.
Destination Japan

Where is Japan?  Start with a geography lesson to familiarize your children with world geography
Show them where Japan is compared to where they live using a world map from National Geographic.  The map is vivid, easy to read thanks to simple labels, and is without unnecessary symbols.  I also like that I can use the scroll wheel on my mouse to zoom in to focus on Japan.  The ability to see a world map and where Japan is in relation to the United States can provide an excellent visual to young learners.
The New York Times has a wonderful interactive Map of the Damage From the Japanese Earthquake.  With the names of the cities on the left, the icons scattered on the map are tied to pictures that will appear when clicked.  The pictures are of devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami so be sure they are images you want your child to see.
Explaining Earthquakes

Christchurch Earthquake 22/02/11
Growing up in California, we were subjected to earthquake drills for preparedness purposes.  We knew the lingo about earthquakes since it’s part of everyone’s vocabulary that lives along major fault lines.  If you reside in an area that is not prone to earthquakes, the idea of the ground shaking can be terrifying and difficult for children to understand.
Start by teaching your children vocabulary words associated with earthquakes such as epicenter, fault, richter scale, plate techtonics, aftershock, and magnitude.  I like the University of Maryland Department of Education’s vocabulary page because it makes each of the terms easy to understand even for young ages.  Upper elementary ages through teens will appreciate additional vocabulary relating to earthquakes and has animations of earthquake terms and concepts on the United States Geological Survey (USGS) website.  
Elementary ages can develop a good understanding of what an earthquake is and what makes them occur with the University of Maryland’s Journey Through an Earthquake webquest.  It describes plate techtonics, boundary separating along plates, seismic waves, and shows past quake damage through diagrams, photos and language that most elementary students can understand. 
Test your knowledge about plate techtonics with matching games or concentration and print out flashcards and a word search from Quia or test your quake knowledge with an earthquake themed crossword puzzle.
View a map of the latest worldwide earthquakes over the past 7 days on the United States Geological Survey (USGS) website.  Take a closer look at Japan’s most recent earthquakes and click on a quake for more information.
Have more questions about earthquakes?  Ask a geologist from the USGS your question by emailing them at mailto:Ask-a-Geologist@usgs.gov
Teaching Tsunamis
Tsunami Hazard Zone
Tsunami is a Japanese word for harbor wave but in this case, the tsunami was much more than that.  This fast moving force of water traveled as fast as a jet in the ocean and its effects could be felt across the Pacific when it hit California. 
Teach young children to be prepared in case of earthquakes and tsunamis with a printable coloring book featuring Tommy Tsunami and Ernie Earthquake which is free on the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) website.  The simple text is perfect for educating younger readers about tsunami and earthquake safety.
Children in grades K-2 will enjoy the Tsunami Educational Video on Astronaut for Hire.  This an animated video is educational, yet entertaining, for elementary students.  It teaches the causes of tsunamis, shows potential effects, discusses warning systems, different kinds of tsunamis, and ways to be prepared in an age appropriate and factual way that will not instill fear.  The video is approximately 8 minutes long.
Older children who are interested in what scientists are doing to predict occurrences of tsunamis should watch ScienCentral Archive Videos to learn how scientists were refining computer monitoring tools during the 2004 Sumatran tsunami in the Indian Ocean.  The methods used to predict tsunamis that hit the Japanese coast and helped give a 30 second warning to warn people to move to higher ground.
Another great resource for 2nd graders and up is PBS’ Savage Earth- Waves of Destruction: Tsunamis which is a comprehensive factual piece about tsunamis designed for fluent readers.


CNN has an animated explanation of tsunamis on their site along with a visual of how they form.  There’s also a link to NOAA animations showing how the wave from the Japan tsunami spread through the Pacific Ocean.
Discussing Disasters
A child’s fears are often amplified when disasters strike. As much as you may try to shelter them from the images and news that are so pervasive following a natural disaster or traumatic event, it is helpful to have some tips about how to talk to them.  PBS Parents has a wonderful resource called Talking with Kids About News


I also found the following tips from the Helping Children Cope with Trauma by the American Counseling Association (ACA)
 on NOAA’s Helping children cope with disaster page.

After a disaster, children are most afraid that the event will recur, that they or someone they love will be hurt or killed, or
 that they may be separated from those they love and be left alone. Here are ways that you can help children cope with
 trauma:

  1. Allow children to express their feelings about what has happened. Share your own feelings with them.

  2. Reassure children, repeatedly, that they are safe and that they are loved.
  3. Be honest with children about what has occurred and provide facts about what happened. Children usually know
when something is being sugar-coated. Details should be age-appropriate, but dont try to hide the main facts.
  4. Help children return to a normal routine as soon as possible.

  5. Spend extra time with your child, especially doing something fun or relaxing for both of you.
  6. Remember the importance of touch. A hug can reassure children that they are loved. Several hugs are even better.

  7. Review family safety procedures to help children feel prepared the next time an emergency situation occurs.

  8. Talk with teachers, babysitters, day care providers, and others who may be with your children so they understand
how the children have been affected and how the children are reacting to the events.

  9. Watch for signs of repetitive play in which children reenact all or part of the disaster. Such play may be the childs
way of showing how deeply the event has affected the child.

  10. Praise and recognize responsible behavior and reassure children that their feelings are normal in response to an
abnormal situation.

  11. If children seem deeply affected by an event, and dont seem to respond to the positive actions described above,
seek professional assistance by talking to a school counselor, your community mental health group or a counselor.
Helping Hands
Donate to reputable organizations that are providing aid to victims of the Japanese earthquake.  Some organizations include:
  • Red Cross- Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 or visit their website to made a donation of any amount
***Check MSNBC for an updated list of organizations.


Ways Other Parents Talk About Tragedies
If you are feeling stuck and can’t find the words to talk to your kids about what is happening in Japan or need some examples about the ways other parents have discussed natural disasters with their children, here are some of my favorite posts by fellow bloggers that deal with these topics:

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Original post by Tech Savvy Mama
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5 Comments

  1. chrissiemz March 13, 2011 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    I loved reading this and I am going to bookmark so I can come back for the links. I really like how you point out to show the kids geologically where Japan is and Where we are.

  2. Terra H. March 14, 2011 at 4:05 am - Reply

    What a great source of information on teaching kids about the disaster that happened, as well as information about earthquakes. Very well put together.

  3. Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig March 14, 2011 at 9:54 am - Reply

    What an AMAZING and comprehensive list of resources! Thank you for your work in putting this together. Truly awesome!

  4. Grace {formerly gracie} March 14, 2011 at 2:39 pm - Reply

    Great post!!! It’s so important to give parents and kids the right vocabulary to talk about disasters. This is such a comprehensive list.

  5. Megan March 22, 2011 at 4:21 am - Reply

    Some great resources! As a teacher it’s great to use some of these sites too! Thanks

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