Q. How can I answer my children's questions about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?


A. Explain what happened in simple terms, says Mary Delheim, editorial director of Ranger Rick, one of the National Wildlife Federation's children's magazines.

This is what Delheim would say: An oil company drilled a well beneath the ground in the Gulf of Mexico to collect oil. A pipe carries the oil from the well up to a platform on the water's surface so it can be shipped to buyers. On April 20, gas and oil accidentally escaped from one well and gushed to the surface, exploding and sinking the platform. The pipe is now leaking dark, thick, slippery, smelly oil, which is spreading over the surface in a "slick."

Grown-ups are working very hard to control the leaking, but the slick is approaching land, where it could harm plants and animals that live near the shore. Birds get oil on their feathers when they dive in the water for food, for instance. When they clean themselves with their beaks, they swallow oil. People also are working to help save the birds and fish. "Tell your child, 'This is a grown-up problem, grown-ups are working very hard to solve it,' " Delheim says.

Ranger Rick has put together a comprehensive Web package to advise parents on how to talk to children of different ages, suggest children's books that address oil spills, and offer ways children can help. Visit nwf.org/oilspill/kids.