The Climate Change Talk

“Well, honey, there’s this thing called global warming caused by human activity and it’s hurting the earth. Here, have a ginger snap.”

I recently had a bad parenting moment.

My five-year old daughter approached me on Christmas Eve day. She was confused, understandably so. It was 70 degrees outside, the warmest Christmas in New England history. “Mommy, it’s suppose to snow on Christmas!”

I, too, was dismayed. There had been talk of an El Niño winter but I wasn’t completely buying it. Preoccupied about the effects of climate change I offered a haphazard response.

“Well, honey, there’s this thing called global warming caused by human activity and it’s hurting the earth. Here, have a ginger snap.”

Instantly, her lip began to quiver, “Mommy, I want it to snow!”

I back-pedaled. “So do I. We need the next generation of scientists to help heal the planet. Do you think you want to be a scientist?”

“NO! I want to work with penguins in the North Pole, remember?!”

“Well, global warming has everything to do with penguins because the polar ice caps are melting, and the penguins need us to help save their habitat.”

“MOM!” We were now approaching a meltdown in my kitchen. “I just want it to snow!”

Realizing that I had just dumped the weight of the polluted world on my magically thinking five-year old, I had to engage in damage control, and quickly. I had to try and make this right.

The truth is I’d love to avoid discussing certain things with my kids all together: sex, drugs, cyber bullying, terrorism… all these subjects are looming darkly on my parental horizon, along with who-knows what else in the coming years. Climate change is one of these subjects.

It’s innately depressing – no, terrifying – to me.

However, talk of climate change is everywhere: on the news and radio, at the dinner table. It’s also happening outside our doors, to the point where even my five-year old daughter is taking note.

I figured her plea for a white Christmas was an invitation to broach the subject. So, after the initial trauma of my first attempt, I suggested that she and I go outside for a walk.

Clearly, I’m no scientist. Discussing carbon emissions and the green house effect is not my strong suit. But I figured with a preschooler I could get away with keeping it simple. I’d relate climate change to a concept she could grasp: health.

First, I asked my daughter how people keep their bodies healthy. She had some solid answers: by eating fruits and vegetable; by exercising and having fun playing outside. I added that by learning new things we exercise our brains, which is also important, as is getting a good night’s sleep, being loved, cared for and giving love back.

All of these factors contribute to a healthy person.

Next, I asked her how we could keep the earth healthy.

Again, I was impressed by her response: by growing plants, by not littering and cleaning up garbage. Turns out she already had an understanding about the interconnectedness of eco-systems, and how if one part is unhealthy it affects the health of other parts.

We discussed the importance of conserving natural resources and the miraculous ways we can use renewable energy generated by the sun, wind and water to power our homes and communities. We talked about the importance of eating foods grown without the use of chemicals and the benefits of having a garden.

The conversation meandered, and that’s okay. I let my daughter’s questions and curiosities guide the conversation. By the end of our walk, we were both feeling optimistic. Together we had created a context for discussing a complicated concept. Instead of feeling bummed out about the lack of winter, we were outside talking about how to engage with the issue.

Then together we came up with a game plan, because who doesn’t love a game?

Simple actions any five-year old can do to promote a healthy earth:

  1. Not waste food.
  2. Put food scraps in the compost.
  3. Recycle
  4. Conserve energy by turning off lights that are not in use.
  5. Conserve water by shutting off the faucet while brushing our teeth.
  6. Plant something – being that it’s winter, we made plans for a bigger garden.
  7. Participate in our neighborhood clean up in the spring.
    And last but not least…
  8. Go for more walks

The older my daughter gets, the more we will to add to our list but this was a good start. Thankfully, our walk/talk had made her feel empowered rather than fearful about the issue.

 Thankfully, our walk/talk had made her feel empowered rather than fearful about the issue.

Even though the reality of climate change scares me – a lot – the last thing I want to do is burden my children with harsh realities.

On the contrary, it’s my job to inspire them, to give them tools for positive change and impart to them a sense of stewardship and reverence for the planet. Our stroll on that balmy Christmas Eve day was a step in the right direction.

Planting earth and growing community with school gardens

“Mom, when we were out there planting, people honked and waved all the time,” my son reported. “I think they really like our gardens.”

At my house, the answer to the question “What did you do at recess today?” is anything from “ran around and played soccer” to “well, Charlie is training to be a ninja, so I helped him practice by trying to sneak up and attack him.” (That always goes over well with the playground monitors.)

However last week, he came home with the most constructive answer yet. “I helped plant some of the gardens.”

Every spring for the last four years the perimeter of the schoolyard has been transformed into a miniature farm,  thoughtfully laid out and painstakingly tended by master gardener and community activist Bonnie Acker.

Of course she doesn’t do it all alone. On that particular day, the spreading of compost, sprinkling of seeds, and digging in the dirt was shared among the couple hundred kids who wandered over to help when the mood struck.

They hauled wheelbarrows, raked out the beds, and as far as I know, managed to resist jousting with shovels.

It’s likely that many were motivated by finding perfect red raspberries nestled between the leaves and briars during recess last fall. I know that’s what my son was thinking about. In August, raspberries were hard won, due to both popularity and scratch factor. Sun gold tomatoes on the other hand, were in plentiful supply. The branches drooped, heavy with fruit. For weeks, whenever we visited, I’d find my toddler crouched under the towering 6 foot tall plants scavenging for the ones that had let go.

Bonnie deserves a national holiday.  For over two decades she planted beautiful gardens in front of the local co-op and library, often with her daughter in tow. In fact, it was her then 3 year old’s suggestion that they do it at all. The co-op needed day lilies, she declared. After getting permission and supplies, they set to work, just the two of them. They loaded shovelful after shovelful of dirt into the dumpster to make way for compost until the dumpster actually tipped.

“Someone went inside to tell customer service and they said, ‘That’s not possible –  it’s just a mom and her 3-year-old out there.’ But we had!” Though her own child is now an adult, she donates countless hours to very appreciative schools, students, and parents. Talking to her, there’s no doubt her brand of passion for teaching kids about growing and eating healthy food could change the world.

Green beans and peas are usually planted along much of the school’s chain link fence, which divides the school yard from a well traveled 3 way intersection.

“Mom, when we were out there planting, people honked and waved all the time,”  my son reported. “I think they really like our gardens.”

The smiles and beeps of appreciation could out-sweeten the raspberries.

Of course there are many reasons to plant a garden with kids. It gives them a deeper awareness of the environment and the workings of nature. It teaches patience and can offer a sense of confidence and achievement. Sure, it can also convince them to eat vegetables they’ve vehemently refused for years, but that sells short the real potential.

Gardening, particularly in a public space, is a lesson in community. Schools, parks, community garden spaces (you can check here for one near you), even your front yard, offer kids (and grown ups) the opportunity to connect with neighbors and friends. “I don’t know of many other places in our culture where people just stop and say hi,” says Bonnie.

During the school’s big planting day, kids happily shared tools and turns (it’s easier to hand off physical labor than a turn on the swing, that’s for sure), and many passerby paused to compliment them on their hard work. At pick up, there were a lot of kids with mud streaked knees and mile wide smiles. And lots of parents being given a tour of all the excitement to come.

Earth Day Jams – A Playlist for Our Home

For Earth Day, we made a playlist of songs that both celebrate our one and only home, while also reminding us to take care of it. This playlist is best enjoyed outside!

Like all of our playlists, it’s great for both grownups and kids.

Feeling Good – Jennifer Hudson

My City Was Gone – Pretenders

Jungle Boogie – Kool & The Gang

Leaves That Are Green – Simon & Garfunkel

Trees- Dr Octagon

Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) – Marvin Gaye

What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong

The Green Fields Of Summer – Peter Wolf

(Nothing But) Flowers – Talking Heads

This Land Is Your Land – Neil Young

For kids and grownups, savoring a daily dose of nature

Being in nature is therapeutic on so many levels. In a forest of 100,000 trees, every tree is different. Yet in the natural world, the trees belong, as do the rocks, plants, raccoons, birds, and insects. Everything has its place in the natural world, and of course the same is true for us.

It’s said that in a forest of 100,000 trees, every tree is different. Yet in the natural world, the trees belong, as do the rocks, plants, raccoons, birds, and insects. We don’t say, “this tree should look more like that tree or this rock should be here and that rock shouldn’t.” Everything has its place in the natural world, and of course the same is true for us.

However, a sense of belonging in our culture is scarce. In our schools, kids all want to be the same – to  “fit in.” Friendships and school dynamics fluctuate, which creates restless energy for kids.

This doesn’t end in childhood. In our culture, we all seek acceptance. But, just like the trees, none of us belong more than anyone else; in fact, we all make up the whole.

Being in nature is therapeutic on so many levels. Whether I was working with kids in wilderness therapy, or playing outside with my daughters, I notice profoundly positive impacts from spending time in the natural world.

First, we don’t project ideas onto nature. (Well maybe sometimes – like it shouldn’t snow in April as it has been here in Vermont.) Generally, when we step outside, we step into the present moment.

In our indoor environments, we attach labels, judgements and assessments about what “should” be happening and what’s right or wrong. But outdoors, there’s typically a letting go and a sense of acceptance.  For example, while we may wish it was warmer or colder, we know and accept that we can’t actually change the temperature.

My kids and I practice what I call “savoring”—noticing special moments in the midst of rushing around through our day. My daughter took her new Nordic skis into the yard after a fresh snowfall and said, “Thanks so much for getting these – it’s so calm and peaceful outside.” I looked up and noticed that dusk was settling in and saw that she was savoring it. My younger daughter built an igloo and hummed a tune to herself. These moments seem to last longer, like time is being stretched.

In  schools in Finland, kids go outside for 15 minutes every hour.  This sounds dramatic compared to most schools in the US that only go outside for 15-30 minutes per day. Perhaps not surprisingly, Finnish kids aren’t on as many meds as American kids. They get their energy out and return to the class ready to learn with fresh blood and an energized brain.

Being in Nature also allows us to notice change and impermanence. Right now in Vermont it’s the end of mud season. There’s still snow in the mountains. Each day is different. While the mud is an unpleasant hassle, it’s also a direct reminder of the seasons and the movement of time. Life is fluid and not static.

A sense of belonging and acceptance, learning to let go, savoring, being present, a fresh mind, awareness of impermanence – these all have a huge impact on our mental health.  (Never mind our physical health.) This is why it’s so critical for kids to get outside everyday.

Kids need a daily dose of nature. It’s free and available to most kids.  They will return indoors refreshed – even during mud season in Vermont.

__________________________________

Krissy Pozatek, LCSW, is an Author, Therapist and Parent Coach. After a decade as a wilderness therapist, Krissy has identified the concepts and skills kids gain in the wilderness and integrated them into everyday parenting so kids can be more adaptable and resilient. She is the author of Brave Parenting: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Raising Emotionally Resilient Children (Wisdom Pub) and The Parallel Process: Growing Alongside Your Adolescent or Young Adult Child in Treatment (Lantern Books).

Visit her website at Parallel-process.com and follow her on Twitter.

Earth Week is almost here!

It’s a pity we only celebrate the Earth for one day, considering everything it does for us. Which is almost literally everything.

That’s why we’re celebrating Earth Week here at Parent Co. from April 15 – April 22nd. Each day we’ll share a book, activity, movie or interview related to exploring and conserving the natural world.   

Is there resource you think we should share with our community? Send me an email at send me an email! I won’t print it, promise.