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. (Note: if your browser does not support tables, the following may be garbled).


Table 1. Age-specific Activities for Children in Disasters
Preschoolers Elementary
(grades K-5)
Middle/Junior High to
High School (grades 6-12)
Draw-a-picture Draw-a-picture Art, music, dance
Tell-a-story Tell-a-story Stories, essays, poetry, video production
Coloring books on disaster and loss Books on disaster and loss Books on disaster and loss
Doll, toy play Create a play or puppet show about a disaster Create a play, puppet show, or video about a disaster
Group games Create a game about a disaster, disaster preparedness, or disaster recovery Group discussions about disaster, disaster preparedness, or disaster recovery
Talks about disaster safety and self-protection School study projects School projects on health or natural and social sciences
- Materials about disaster safety and self and family protection Materials about disaster safety and self, family, and community protection
- - School service projects
Reprinted and adapted from Lystad, M. (Ed.). (1990). Innovations in Mental Health Services to Disaster Victims (DHHS Publication No. ADM 90-1390). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

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