Asthma, the Lungs, and Our Environment

Asthma is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe due to swollen airways and an increase of mucus in the lungs. Almost 8% of children are affected by the disease and it is one of the top reasons students miss school (CDC). While there’s no cure for asthma, it can usually be managed with plans from health professionals.

As a classroom teacher, Children’s Librarian, Girl Scout leader, afterschool educator, or caregiver, we know you have a lot on your plate to teach AND keep your kids safe. Use our lesson plans to start open conversations about asthma in your space, encourage curiosity about health and the body, and inspire discussions about treating others with kindness.

Our Lessons

Our lessons are designed for grades K-5 with the flexibility for you to decide how much depth is appropriate for your students. The activities themselves usually take about 5-10 minutes; full lessons might be 20+ minutes with lots of conversation!

Asthma LessonsAn Air AffairBrush Up on BreathingMucus MadnessThe Nose Knows
DescriptionWe need oxygen for our bodies to function, and the lungs help us get the air we need! Lungs are pink and spongy and fill up with air when we breathe in.Sticky, ooey-gooey mucus sometimes makes it hard to breathe.Different things in the environment can affect how we breathe.
NGSS LS1.A, LS4.D, LS2.BLS1.A, LS4.D, LS2.BLS1.A, LS4.D, LS2.BLS1.A, LS4.D, LS2.B

Mucus with Drew and Nia


Looking for information about how to manage asthma symptoms if your school resumes operations during the COVID-19 pandemic? Please see the COVID-19 and Asthma Toolkit for Schools from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

Disclaimer: always follow the guidance of your school/library/facility asthma action plan.

About Asthma

Asthma triggers are things in the environment that might cause an asthma flare-up (when symptoms happen). During a flare-up, the lungs get irritated and inflamed and produce a lot of mucus, which can clog the swollen airways and make it difficult to get air into and out of the lungs.

Demonstrate this to kids by comparing a very open fist to a tight one!

Asthma symptoms include wheezing, coughing, tightness of the chest or shortness or breath.

When asthma symptoms appear, students may need to access their emergency inhaler immediately. Make sure you know where to access this (for example, do you carry it with you? Does your student or their parent have it? If you are in a school setting, is it at the nurse’s office?). If asthma symptoms persist or do not get better, students may require urgent visits to doctors’ offices or the emergency room.

Students with asthma may:

  • need to take oral or inhaled medicine (as preventative and/or emergency symptom management)
  • feel jittery, hyper, or strange after using inhalers
  • miss field trips to places that could make their asthma worse
  • request the removal of allergens in meeting spaces/classrooms that can trigger flare-ups
  • need to be excused from phys-ed or other physical activities when they have flare-ups

Asthma in Context: How to Support Students

Your students with asthma may need flexibility regarding missed activities, instruction, testing etc. if they miss class time due to flare-ups, going to the nurse’s office, and/or visiting their doctors.

Bullies might target students who seem “different,” so talking with your participants about asthma and kindness may be beneficial. For a free, PDF book on asthma, please see “All About Asthma” (appropriate for K-5). Use our lesson plans to encourage open conversation and discussion about asthma, healthy lungs and other health topics.

Keep in mind that students with asthma can participate in school sports, phys-ed, and other activities, but may need to use their inhalers before/after participating in physical activities. They might have to take other precautions to avoid flare-ups — check with your students’ parents.

Make sure your students with asthma have written instructions from their doctor (called an asthma action plan), which tells them how to prevent and manage flare-ups. You should know your students’ asthma triggers and let them use their medicine when needed.

Discover SCIENCE with Dr. Bear is an adaption of our previous SEPA Being Me (#R25RR025132), a health and science curriculum designed for 3rd-5th grade science classrooms. See the full SEPA Being Me Asthma Unit.