Helping children navigate what’s to come

When I think about the future, the most terrifying part is by far imagining my children living in the world we’re creating for them. When I consider what they may face, the fear and grief in my body both paralyze and catalyze me. I hope that they are able to grow up before things fall apart too much, so that they don’t have to face what may come when they are still young and vulnerable.

Does this resonate for you?

How do we prepare our children for an unknown future?

What skills, knowledge, and understandings will our children need to survive? As a parent and as an educator I have been grappling with these questions for a long time.

And I have some ideas.

(Side note: I’m excited to be participating in Shelburne Farms’ Climate Resiliency Fellowship for Educators beginning this summer, where I will take a deep dive into how education can intersect with climate change to prepare our youth for a climate-changed world. Stay tuned for that story.)


Love before fear

Ecophobia, a term coined by environmental educator David Sobel, tells us that children need a chance to fall in love with the world before being asked to save it. (Read Sobel’s article in YES magazine here.) So one of the most important things we can do for our children is to engage them in the joy and wonder of the natural world. (I even co-wrote a book on this!)

Go on hikes, nature scavenger hunts, bird watching.  Go fishing, collect rocks, learn to identify your neighbor trees. Play in mud, in puddles, in rivers and lakes. Be outside.  Be together.

Not only will this help kindle a relationship between your children and our earth (and you), but it will hopefully fill their heads with pleasant memories of these good old days.

At the dinner table

The United Nations has 17 goals for Sustainable Development set forth as global goals to reach before 2030. (Though I don’t think “sustainable development” is what we need right now- I think we need to stop developing, but that’s a topic for another time.)

The Global Goals hang on our refrigerator.

These goals provide a frame for understanding the global issues we need to tackle to move toward a sustainble and just world.

As a family, we’ve introduced and discussed a few of these issues around the dinner table:  What is poverty? How can we help tackle poverty in our community?

These discussions can help children understand the issues we face as a global community, recognize their own privilege, and find opportunities to contribute to improving the quality of life in our own community. (For example: Joining gleaning efforts at your local vegetable farm, harvesting produce to donate to the local food bank.)

Learn more about the Global Goals here.

Reading the world

As an educator, books are a go-to for building background knowledge and kindling curiosity.  As a parent, story time is a precious opportunity to share one of my favorite things (books) with my favorite people. There are two books that I think every family should read and discuss together as we consider the future and the choices we make as a family.

The happy look on my face here was to promote a love of books in kids, not because the topic of environmental degradation, consumption, and greed bring me joy.

The Lorax – by Dr. Seuss

This classic picture book shaped who I am.  This book has been a favorite of mine since childhood and is the reason I became an (environmental) educator. Seuss’ simple story introduces children to the concepts of interdependence, systems, feedback loops, and activism: The Onceler’s financial greed and need for ‘biggering’ lead to the destruction of all the Truffula trees, as well as the habitat of the Brown Bar-ba-loots, Swomee Swans, and Humming Fish.  The air and water are polluted, the landscape ravaged, the natural resources depleted.  People’s need for goods (Thneeds) destroys the world and makes readers question our own “needs.”

But Seuss’s rallying cry is what resonates most:

“UNLESS someone like you…cares a whole awful lot…nothing is going to get better…It’s not.”

I woke to that call.  I care, a whole awful lot.  And sharing this book with children offers them the opportunity understand how our actions are connected (to everything else) and to question the status quo and discover that their actions, too, can make a difference.

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

I discovered Bang & Chisholm’s Sunlight Series as an elementary educator.  This series tackles complex scientific concepts (energy flows: photosynthesis, water cycle, food chains, electricity) in an incredibly accessible and inspiring way.  There’s almost a spiritual element to the way the narrator- our Sun – is introduced in each book:

I am your sun, your golden star. Even from 93 million miles away, I warm your land, your seas, your air, and chase the darkness from your days.  My energy gives light and life to your tiny earth.

So I was thrilled when I discovered the latest book, Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth.  This book explains exactly what fossil fuels are, how they were formed, and what their use as an energy source is doing to our planet.

I have to admit that even I have learned a lot by reading these books.  Built upon the foundational idea of interconnectedness, this books makes it clear that the energy we’re using today is unsustainable.  Like all books in the series, the final pages take a deep dive into the science in an accessible-to-slightly-older-children (and adults) kind of way.

And there are a zillion other small ways we’re trying to help our children act with respect for the earth and understand that resources are finite.  And we’ve begun peppering conversations with foreshadowing of hardships to come with a warming planet.

But those hardships are already a reality for so many

Before you go, let’s put ourselves into the shoes of some of our fellow parents:

Dystopia is already a reality for many of our world’s children

At this moment there are children in cages at our southern border. Children have been walking, sometimes without adults, across continents to seek a chance at survival. Children are fleeing war. Being victimized by rape and physical violence. Being conscripted into armies. Being sold into slavery or child prostitution. Children have been starving to death or dying of curable diseases in a world with plenty – yet unequally distributed – resources since the beginning.

This is happening now. And not just far away. Many of these atrocities are happening here.

And I need to acknowledge this.  I am writing from such a place of sheer privilege and luck. I didn’t earn this.  My family is no better or more worthy than any other.  We are just really fucking lucky.  We were born in a country that’s relatively stable, to families who because of their privilege were able to provide for us. We have access and agency and we use it to care for our loved ones.  Can we also use it to help others?

Shouldn’t we all be so lucky?

So before you go, should you also be graced with such privilege to be giving your children a childhood with relative safety, comfort, and joy, please consider making a donation to one of the many reputable children’s aid organizations around the world that helps others in need.  I did a little research into reputable organizations, and here are a few suggestions.  Please let me know of others who do good work.

How will you help our children navigate the future?



  1. Emily, I would like to share this on FB. Is that okay? This is so timely and essential to get out there to parents, educators and grass roots community groups. You’ve got the right idea, girl. Powerful.


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