Kathy Roberts is the author of two juvenile fiction/family coloring books, The Way of the Bear and We All Have Wings, illustrated by Dawn Collins and published by The Mindful Word. Here, she offers us her thoughts on the importance of teaching kids to respect the environment, a topic which she focuses on in her writing and supports throughout her daily life.
The Way of the Bear is a book about the sacred relationship between giving and receiving with gratitude. As the Mother Bear teaches her cubs the importance of being thankful to the Salmon People, the reader is shown how necessary respect is for true gratitude. The Mother wants to give her cubs important things about which to think and the reader is asked to take that same journey.
On top of the story, you also get 44 pages of beautiful pictures to color. The book is designed so that the detailed pictures are on the right-hand page for adult colorists (great for stress relief!) and simpler drawings of animals are on the left for the kids.
What do you think is the best activity to use to teach kids about environmentalism?
The best activity is always what your children see you doing. I know, I know, that’s not really an activity. But if they see that you’re engaged in recycling, are concerned about the environment and are open to reusing and upcycling, they’ll learn that your family values include respecting our Mother Earth and protecting her assets.
In other words, don’t teach, do. Don’t lecture, participate.
When teaching kids about it, what’s the biggest challenge? Are there any concepts that kids might find especially hard to understand?
I think kids get that being a good citizen of the Earth requires individual participation. They learn about the environment in school and may be more in tune with the concepts of recycling and reusing than their parents. However, it may be difficult for children to understand why there are controversies regarding climate change.
I think it’s important to educate kids about how politics can impact our environment. We need to make our kids as savvy about politics as we try to make them about advertising and how businesses advertise to make them want things. If we can help them navigate the difference between what’s good for business versus what’s good for maintaining life, we’ll have done our jobs. And when they understand that the driving force behind climate change deniers is business, they can make better decisions when it’s their turn to vote.
If we can help our children become informed citizens, we’re ensuring their futures.
Is environmentalism the most important world issue to teach kids about? Is it the responsibility of parents, schools or both?
We’re bombarded with issues every day. We have so many important issues facing our world and our society. And the one thing we can count on is that our children will have to face important issues when it’s their turn to help the world become a better place for everyone. Of course, I think the environment is a front-and-centre issue. If we continue to behave as if our assets are limitless, we’ll quickly find out that they’re not.
But as I said, we’re being hit with issue after issue and concentrating on one is difficult. I think the best thing we can do is teach our children how to act with compassion and loving kindness both towards others and themselves. If we can teach our kids to understand and accept themselves, they’ll naturally understand and accept others. That compassion and care is healing. Perhaps the only real way to heal the Earth is to create healthy, happy, compassionate inhabitants who are informed.
In your own mind, what’s the connection between environmentalism and gratitude? How can we connect the two when teaching kids? (Besides reading your books, of course!)
Gratitude for what we have is a step towards personal contentment. We’re learning, as a society, about entitlement. This social problem can be directly linked to a lack of gratitude for advantages that enable an easier life. If we allow our children to think they have what they have because they deserve it while others don’t, we’ve failed. We must help our children understand that thankfulness, compassion and empathy are all linked.
I think pets help kids develop empathy and compassion. They can be helpful in teaching kids responsibility for maintaining friendships. If kids understand that they’re powerful and capable, compassionate and kind, they’ll make good decisions about their lives, which will always include the environment.
How would you respond if you witnessed children throwing trash on the ground or in the water, or otherwise contaminating a public environment right in front of you?
Well, like many of the readers of The Mindful Word, I practice mindfulness. My hope is that I’d be able to choose kindness and compassion and use the moment to interact positively. Of course, the children would have to agree to talk.
I’d probably use humour to help the kids feel comfortable because that’s easy for me. I have tons of grandchildren, so I know how to make kids laugh. It’s really important for kids to be relaxed and not “on the defensive” if you’re actually wanting to teach them something.
I don’t think most kids are malicious. When they have good information, they make good decisions. As the adult, it would be up to me to set the tone for a positive interaction. Mindfulness can make that possible.