Kids are the future of the vegan movement, so it's crucial that we involve them at events, conferences and festivals. Thank you to the NYC Veg Festival for offering a dedicated space just for families-- a place for parents to stop by and pick up information about raising vegan kids, and where kids could participate in vegan-friendly activities that promote kindness and compassion towards animals. The kids and their parents were inspired and empowered to make a difference for animals, the environment, and their own health. With the help of my husband, I set up the children's area literature table with coloring books, wristbands, bookmarks, tattoos, comic books, stickers, and other materials for kids and their parents. We also had fun, giveaway prizes. Thank you to all the wonderful organizations for participating including Teachkind, Vegbooks, Mitch Spinach, Today I Ate a Rainbow, Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp, Kids Gone Raw, Grey2K USA, and the individuals who participated including NYC Vegetarian and Vegan Families Meetup members, Lottie Hanson and Christina Burke, HEART Humane Educator, Kim Korona, Institute for Humane Education graduate student, Kate Skwire, Vegbooks Outreach Coordinator, Jennifer Gannett, Super Sprowtz founder, Radha Agrawal, Certified Holistic Health Coach, Ellie Aaron Chef Maddie Sobel from PCRM (Physicians for Responsible Medicine), Fiona Walsh from the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, nutrition and wellness consultant, Jennifer Medley, and Vegan Chef and Yoga Teacher, April Dechagas.
We also had a table for kids to play the animal-friendly board game, Fur & Feathers, as well as table filled with printouts to color, including this fun Vegan Plate page. Another table was set up for the activities, including making healthy vegan snacks such as rice/kale balls and rice cakes with hummus/apple butter/apple sauce spreads, seeds and grapes used for making faces. There was a mat for kids to sit on and read from our kid's vegan library with books provided by Vegbooks. There was also a table set up for puppetmaking.Also, congratulations to Danette Suarez who guessed how many fruits and veggies were in this jar (below). She guessed the exact number- 401!! The prize.... a Rainbow Kit donated by Kia Robertson from Today I Ate a Rainbow! Danette is a second grade teacher so she is looking forward to using it in her classroom!
Guess how many fruits and veggies?
Here are photos from the children's area...
Such a wonderful, jam-packed weekend full of activities to inspire and empower kids to be kind to animals...and eat healthy! Thank you to all who participated and made the children's area special for all of the kids and parents who stopped by.
My Talk on Raising Vegan Kids
I shared personal experiences as well as ideas, tips and resources I've gained from researching and talking with other vegan/vegetarian parents.
Laying the Foundation Early to Raise a Compassionate, Healthy Child
Pregnancy Research shows that what a woman eats during pregnancy may shape food preferences later in life. In the womb, the baby gulps down several ounces of amniotic fluid a day and this fluid is flavored by the foods and beverages the mother has eaten. So what you eat in pregnancy can result in preferences for certain foods for a lifetime. In other words, if you eat broccoli while you're pregnant, there's a much better chance your baby will like broccoli. So for the sake of your baby, eat a varied, healthy diet and skip the soda, chips and ice cream!
Research also shows that the foods our children eat in the first 15 years of their lives is critical and has more of an impact in determining later diseases and illnesses than the last 50yrs of your life.Here are a few tips to help develop HEALTHY eating patterns in children: Healthy eating is really 2 parts: It’s what we DON’T feed our kids (animal products), and its about what we DO and SHOULD feed our kids. Healthy eating is about adding nutrient-dense foods into your diet that fight cancer and other illnesses, and provide phytonutrients to keep us healthy. (Read: Disease Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right by Dr. Joel Fuhrman)
Be Consistent: it can take up to 15 times exposure to a food before a child accepts/likes a food. Don't give up!
Be a good role model: you can’t snack on oreos and potato chips and expect your child to eat carrots and celery. Let your child see you eating healthy foods. Eat together.
Cook and bake with your kids: kids are more apt to try something that they’ve helped make. My daughter helps me by mixing and pouring ingredients, mashing up tofu in her hands for tofu scramble, ripping kale, and adding fruits to the blender for green smoothies. An added bonus is that she often eats half of it before the recipe is even finished! Buy kid-friendly baking tools, and a fun apron. This also reinforces science/math/motor skills!Bring kids grocery shopping: let them pick out foods that they already like and also challenge them to find new foods that they want to try. Adults should do this too!
Grow vegetables in your backyard or windowsill if possible. Go to a farm to see vegetables growing in the ground. Also, pick-your-own fruits and veggies in season.
Remove the competition: just as you remove meat and dairy from your households, you should also remove the junk and processed foods. If kids are hungry and there isn't any junk food around, they'll be forced to grab something healthy to eat. Keep fruits and veggies visible out on the counter so when kids are hungry, that's the first thing they'll see/grab.
Redefine the word “snack” dessert” etc: snacks don’t have to be crackers, chips, ice cream, or sugary stuff, they can be what we typically view as breakfast, dinner, or side dishes. (Ex. pieces of roasted cauliflower, chickpeas, chunks of tofu). Dessert can be fruit, not ice cream. Try freezing 3 bananas and then blending them in a processor/vitamix, and you instantly have creamy banana ice cream using only one healthy ingredient (add peanut butter too)!
Be Creative: make art/faces out of fruits and veggies. Put food on a kabob. Use cookie cutters to make shapes. Tell a story about a bunny who loved carrots, or Mitch Spinach, etc. Kia Robertson from Today I Ate a Rainbow recommends making it fun!Doctors- Dr’s receive little to no nutrition education (20hrs average, but some don't receive any training) in med school. Their courses have a heavy emphasis on treatment and pharmaceuticals, rather than prevention. It’s likely in regards to nutrition that you know more than them. Dr's always want to fatten up thin kids to get them on par with the rest of the kids in this country (obesity epidemic!), but because veg kids often eat more fruit, veggies and other lower calorie but higher nutrient-dense foods instead of high-calorie, high fat foods such as doritos, ice cream and mac & cheese, then it's common sense that they will be thinner.
Don’t worry about being perfect: the typical standard American toddler eats the same few foods over and over (chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, ice cream, pizza) so by not feeding these foods, you’re already ahead of the game! It's not about purity, it's about the overall picture.
1) Protein- if you’re eating a sufficient caloric diet, then it’s almost impossible to be deficient in protein. The protein myth in this country was created by meat industry, and we typically get 400x more protein that we need. Animal protein is what’s killing us! According to Forks Over Knives...“We’ve never treated a single patient with protein deficiency, yet the majority of patients we see are suffering from heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases resulting from trying to get enough protein” 2) 25% toddlers between 1-2yrs old eat no fruits/veggies at all!
3) American kids eat less than 2% of their entire diet from fruits/veggies! They move into adulthood eating 90% of their calories from dairy products, white flour, sugar, and oil.
4) Heart Disease risk factors are being seen in kids as young as 10yrs old.
5) CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has predicted that this is the first generation of children that may NOT outlive their parents.
6) By the time American children are 15 months old, French fries have become their most commonly consumed vegetable.
Kids don't want to feel left out or different; they want to fit in with their peers. So it's our job as parents to help them with this. There are also ways for kids to gain a better understanding and appreciation for why their family is choosing a vegan diet. Here are a few suggestions: Visit a farm sanctuary- so kids can get up close and personal with rescued animals
. These sanctuaries are very successful in creating a powerful, long-lasting connection to animals. Kids are less likely to want to eat animals after meeting them. Since most vegans don’t visit zoos, this can be a good replacement for that. Make holidays and events extra special- you can come up with new family traditions, but try to also include some classic traditions that other kids will be doing- just do it with a vegan twist. Nowadays almost everything can be "veganized." For example, you can make a vegan gingerbread house, color wooden or paper mache eggs instead of dying real eggs, snack on vegan jelly beans
, and make vegan candy corn for Halloween.Read kids books that affirm vegan values- where animals are respected and shown in a positive light, rather than being used by humans in exploitative situations such as in zoos, circuses, and horse-drawn carriages. Skip the books that show kids eating hot dogs, drinking milk, eating ice cream, fishing, etc. Vegbooks is the best online resource for finding veg-friendly books. Also read books about brave people throughout history who were once viewed as being different and in the minority such as those who worked for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights but were later viewed as heroes, who despite challenges, spoke up for what was right.
Find a vegetarian/vegan parenting group in your community, and if there isn’t one, start your own. It’s really important for kids to be around other veg kids, and it’s also a great resource for veg parents to get together with other like-minded parents to exchange advice, ideas/tips, recipes, etc. If you live in the NYC area, join the NYC Vegetarian and Vegan Families Meetup
. Show your kids the power of activism. If they feel strongly about a specific animal or issue, encourage them to join a protest, write a letter to a newspaper, have a vegan bake sale, hand out literature, or create an art project. They’ll most likely have fun doing this, and it will teach them to be a voice for the voiceless.
Remember there are opportunities for teaching kindness and empathy all around us- here in NYC every time I step outside I come across pigeons, squirrels, and bugs such as spiders, ants and flies. Teach kids to respect these not so cute and cuddly creatures as well. Encourage your kids to stop and watch their behaviors. Instill curiosity and reverence. Model kindness by teaching them to never intentionally step on creatures/animals, chase them, or hit them.
Take advantage of social media to create a virtual support community. Ask questions, get advice and share some of your own tips and ideas with other vegetarian/vegan parents. Follow on Twitter & Pinterest and LIKE on Facebook any and all pages related to vegan kids/vegan parenting. You will be exposed to wonderful articles, recipes, ideas, and inspiration.
I wrote a post for Girlie Girl Army that I wanted to re-share on my website. It’s a piece for parents who are raising vegan kids. I hope it will give you the courage and pride to raise a child according to principles of integrity and compassion. Here it is!
"Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar." -- Bradley Miller
ORIGINAL ON Girlie Girl Army:"When I tell people that I’m raising my child vegan, I sometimes feel as though I have to defend and explain my decision. My decision is passive, I'm just leaving out certain foods from her diet. But parents who are feeding their kids meat, dairy, and eggs are actively adding in foods. So shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t they have to defend their decision to purchase that hot dog that came from a pig who never stepped foot on grass or saw the sky (except from the slot in the truck on her way to the slaughterhouse) and whose mother was forced to live in a tiny metal crate amid her own urine and feces, where she was unable to even turn around or take a step forward or backward for weeks on end?
Why don’t parents who are feeding their kids meat and other products taken from animals have to defend their decision? They’re giving their kids cow’s milk, which is exactly that … cow’s milk! Isn’t that a little strange? It’s meant to fatten up calves. Humans are the only species that drinks another species’ milk, and we’re the only species that drinks any milk past infancy. Casino mogul Steve Wynn said it best: “It’s liquid cholesterol!”
What exactly is it that people are concerned that my child will be missing out on … high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity? It surely can’t be protein, calcium, or iron because there are tons of healthy plant-based sources (spinach, nuts, whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fortified juices, cereals, pasta, etc.) that don’t have the added fat and cholesterol, not to mention the hormones and antibiotics.
The sad truth is, in this society, any behavior or child-rearing decision that goes against the norm is often seen as wrong or irresponsible. Even weird. And that’s a shame because it often prevents people (in this case, parents) from doing the right thing. Unfortunately, society’s backlash is a strong deterrent, and so is the desire to adhere to the status quo.
NYC Veggie Parade, 2012
Despite the many studies indicating that vegan diets are not only appropriate for children, but may in fact be healthier (for example, the American Dietetic Association—the nation’s largest group of nutrition professionals—stated, “Well-planned vegan diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes”), parents are still opting to add animal products to their children’s diet, mainly as a result of tradition and being constantly bombarded with messages from the dairy and meat industries. Years of slogans like “Milk does the body good” and “You need meat for protein” have been drilled into our heads by multi-billion dollar industries pushing their products. If milk does the body so “good” then why is it that the countries that consume the most milk are also the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis- and vice versa. And the more animal protein that a population consumes, the higher the prevalence of osteoporosis. There is a big protein myth out there, but the fact is Americans eat about 400% more protein than necessary, and even vegetarians eat more than they need.
It would be unethical for me to feed my child meat, dairy, or eggs based on what I know about how animals are raised for food. You can look the other way or deny that it’s as bad as they say, but the truth is, the majority of meat/dairy and eggs sold in this country (>95%) come from animals who have been raised in appalling conditions in overcrowded, filthy warehouses, where they are crammed into small cages and crates and denied basic necessities, including fresh air, sunshine, grass, and companionship. Simply put, I don’t believe that animals should be treated like this, so I’m choosing to leave cruel animal products out of my child’s diet. I’m teaching her that if she wants to help end animal suffering and also not knowingly contribute to major environmental problems including climate change, water and air pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion she has to be a part of the solution, and that means not supporting it (with dollars). This is what it really means to live according to your values.
Catskill Animal Sanctuary
People raise their children according to their own set of morals and values. Just like a Buddhist wouldn’t raise her child Catholic and an environmentalist wouldn’t raise his child to be wasteful, I wouldn’t serve my child chicken fingers or ice cream. Children are little extensions of ourselves (at least until they’re old enough to make their own decisions). In our society, we typically do not allow children to make the decision to participate in anything that is morally questionable until they are of age. Since I consider the way that animals are raised for food in this country to be morally abhorrent, I therefore would not impose animal products upon my child and would not allow her to make that decision until she is old enough to think critically and understand the consequences.
So instead of focusing on what a vegan child is not getting (fat-laden, cholesterol-filled slabs of meat as well as milk, cheese, and eggs from miserable animals who’ve been raised in terrible conditions), let’s focus on what they are getting (a healthy balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds). And my daughter is getting a whole lot more than that including a moral compass based on compassion, justice, courage, and integrity. So if you’re raising a vegan child like I am, stop being on the defensive, and start embracing it! Be proud that you are living with intention and consciously choosing compassion over cruelty!"
I recently spoke on the Raising Vegan Kids panel at The Seed: A Vegan Experience in NYC. It was exciting to be part of such an important event-- and to be able to connect with other parents raising vegan kids. If you missed the panel, here are a few highlights from my presentation...
I was very excited to be asked to be part of the ‘Raising Vegan Kids’ panel along with Nora Kramer, Michelle Schwegmann, and Chloe Jo Davis at The Seed: A Vegan Experience in NYC. I’ve gone to many vegan and animal rights conferences and events, but there is hardly ever a mention on the topic of raising vegan kids. And now that I have my very own vegan kid, it's relevant to me. I think because more and more adults are becoming vegan, and those adults are having kids, it makes complete sense that the subject of raising veg kids is also becoming more popular, and worthy of discussion. Thank you to The Seed for hosting a whole panel dedicated to the subject of raising vegan kids... definitely a big step in the right direction towards a better world for animals (and the health of our kids, and planet too).
Here are a few topics I discussed in my presentation:
Embracing veganism is the most effective step a family can take to fight animal suffering. If you have a vegan family, be proud that while you are not necessarily taking the easy road, you most definitely are taking the high road. Encourage your family to be proud and courageous in your family’s decision. We obviously know that a vegan diet is the best decision you can make for the well-being of animals, and according to many studies, (including by the United Nations) it's also the best decision you can make for the environment. It's also the best decision you can make for the health of your child. Despite countless messages being drilled into our heads about how we need meat and dairy to survive and thrive, there is now overwhelming evidence by many top physicians and organizations that say the contrary. In fact, countless studies show that if we leave meat and dairy off our plates, we have a better chance of avoiding many types of cancers, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes other debilitating and fatal diseases and illnesses. So when it comes to the animals' well-being, the environment, and our children's health, the facts and science are overwhelmingly on our side. So be confident in your decision to raise compassionate, healthy vegan kids.
Nora Kramer, Michelle Schwegmann, Chloe Jo Davis, Robyn Moore
Laying the Foundation Early to Raise a Compassionate, Healthy Child:
Research shows that what a woman eats during pregnancy may shape food preferences later in life. In the womb, the baby gulps down several ounces of amniotic fluid a day and this fluid is flavored by the foods and beverages the mother has eaten (things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint, etc.). So researchers tested this by giving women garlic capsules or sugar capsules and then took a sample of their amniotic fluid and asked volunteers to smell the samples. The people could easily pick out the samples from the women who ate garlic. This shows that babies in the womb can also taste it since taste is primarily based on smell. So what you eat in pregnancy can result in preferences for certain foods for a lifetime. In other words, if you eat broccoli while you're pregnant, there's a much better chance your baby will like broccoli.
Research also shows that the foods our children eat in the first 10 years of their lives has a critical and profound effect on their lifelong health, so it’s important to introduce as many different foods as possible. Be consistent- it can take up to 15 times exposure to a food before a child accepts/likes a food. Don't give up!
Here are a few tips to help develop healthy eating patterns in children:
Be a good role model- you can’t snack on Oreos and potato chips and expect your child to eat carrots and celery. Let your child see you eating healthy foods.
Cook and bake with your kids- kids are more apt to try something that they’ve helped make You can start at a young age. My daughter helps me by mixing and pouring ingredients, mashing up tofu in her hands for tofu scramble, ripping kale, and adding fruits to the blender for green smoothies.
Bring kids grocery shopping- let them pick out foods that they already like and also challenge them to find new foods that they want to try. Adults should do this too!
Grow vegetables in your backyard or windowsill, or go to a farm to see vegetables growing in the ground or go to a farm where you can pick-your-own fruits and veggies in season.
Remove the competition- just as you remove meat and dairy from your households, also remove the junk and processed foods. If kids are hungry and there isn't any junk food around, they'll be forced to grab something healthy to eat.
Order a Today I Ate A Rainbow Kit!- which encourages kids to eat at least 5 servings of fruits/veggies a day, including one from each color of the rainbow. They can track it on a refrigerator chart with magnets. It's fun and interactive.
Social Side: Kids don't want to feel left out or different; they want to fit in with their peers. So it's our job as parents to help them with this. There are also ways for kids to gain a better understanding and appreciation for why their family is choosing a vegan diet. Here are a few suggestions:
Visit a farm sanctuary- so kids can get up close and personal with rescued animals. These sanctuaries are very successful in creating a powerful, long-lasting connection to animals. Kids are less likely to want to eat animals after meeting them! Since most vegans don’t visit zoos, this can be a good replacement for that.
Make holidays and events extra special- you can come up with new family traditions, but try to also include some classic traditions that other kids will also be doing- just do it with a vegan twist. Nowadays almost everything can be "veganized." For example, you can make a vegan gingerbread house, color wooden or paper mache eggs instead of dying real eggs, snack on vegan jelly beans, and make vegan candy corn for Halloween.
Read kids books that affirm vegan values- where animals are respected and shown in a positive light, rather than being used by humans in exploitative situations such as in zoos, circuses, and horse-drawn carriages. Try to skip the books that show kids eating hot dogs, drinking milk, eating ice cream, fishing, etc. VEGBOOKS is the best online resource for finding veg-friendly books. Also, besides kids books, read books about brave people throughout history who were once viewed as being different and in the minority such as those who worked for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights but were later viewed as heroes, who despite challenges, spoke up for what was right.
Find a vegetarian/vegan parenting group in your community, and if there isn’t one, start your own. It’s really important for kids to be around other veg kids, and it’s also a great resource for veg parents to get together with other like-minded parents to exchange advice, ideas/tips, recipes, etc. If you live in the NYC area, please join the NYC Vegetarian and Vegan Families Meetup.
Show your kids the power of activism. If they feel strongly about a specific animal or issue, encourage them to join a protest, write a letter to a newspaper, have a vegan bake sale, hand out literature, or create an art project. They’ll most likely have fun doing this, and it will teach them to be a voice for the voiceless.
Remember there are opportunities for teaching kindness and empathy all around us- here in NYC every time I step outside I come across pigeons, squirrels, and bugs such as spiders, ants and flies. Teach them to respect these not so cute and cuddly creatures as well. Encourage your kids to stop and watch their behaviors. Instill curiosity and reverence. Model kindness by teaching them to never intentionally step on creatures/animals, chase them, or hit them.
Dealing with Playdates, Sleepovers and School Functions
The first thing you want to do is make sure that your relative or child’s friend’s parents know that your child is VEGAN. Next, make sure they know what a VEGAN is, and exactly what foods they can’t eat. Nowadays, many kids are allergic to specific foods (e.g. dairy, peanuts), and there are more and more vegetarians and vegans so different diets shouldn’t be unfamiliar to them.
For events such as sleepovers, birthday parties, school functions, pizza parties, and cookouts, the number one most important thing you can do is find out ahead of time what they’ll be serving and supply your child with a vegan substitute, if possible. This will require a little more time and effort on your part, but it’s worth it to make your child feel part of the group.
Create a LIST- for grandparents, aunts/uncles, friends, babysitters, daycares. This is actually something that my Mom recommended. This can be especially helpful for grandparents who have other grandkids too-- so that they can buy snacks that all the kids can eat, because it’s inevitable that kids will want to share or have what the other one is having. On the list you can also include some non-obvious vegan ingredients to look out for when shopping that people may not know- such as whey, casein, honey, gelatin, etc. Click here for list.
Recommended Resources for Raising Vegan Kids
Despite living in a society permeated by mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and milk... it's getting easier and easier to raise vegan kids because there are so many resources available, online and in books. You can google almost any subject about vegan parenting and you'll get back tons of answers.
Take advantage of social media to create a virtual support community. Ask questions, get advice and share some of your own tips and ideas with other vegetarian/vegan parents. Follow on Twitter & Pinterest and LIKE on Facebook any and all pages related to vegan kids/vegan parenting. You will be exposed to wonderful articles, recipes, ideas, and inspiration.
Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World by Erin Pavlina of Vegfamily.com
Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times by Zoe Weil (makes a great baby shower gift!)
50 Awesome Ways Kids Can Help Animals by Ingrid Newkirk of PETA
Vegan Lunch Box: 130 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love! by Jennifer McCann
Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.
Healthy Eating for Life for Children by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Eating for Kids by M.S.J. Dana Villamagna and M.D., M.Sc. Andrew VillamagnaVegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Sayward RebhalSkinny Bitch Bun in the Oven by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
Happy, Healthy, Vegan Kids by Tracie DeMotteThat’s Why We Don’t eat Animals and Vegan is Love by Ruby Roth
My message to vegan parents: Your decision to raise vegan kids means that you will often be challenging the status quo and swimming against the current, but don't let that deter you. Never apologize for choosing a lifestyle based on compassion and integrity. Deep in your heart you know you're doing the right thing for the animals, the planet and your children, so be proud and confident in your decision. Feel empowed. Live with a clean conscience knowing that you and your family are living according to your deepest values. Make veganism fun! Make vegan pancakes on the weekend, have vegan pizza parties, and make vegan ice cream sundaes!
Melissa Gates, Director of Programs at Catskill Animal Sanctuary shares her recent experience teaching kids, and tells us about the wonderful Camp Kindness vegan summer camp! It's a one-week long day camp run by trained humane educators that gives kids the opportunity to interact with farm animals, while inspiring them to make kind, compassionate choices for all. Check out this one-of-a-kind camp, and register your kids-- they will love it!
Guest Post by Melissa Gates, Director of Programs at Catskill Animal Sanctuary
Ten Girl Scouts, ranging in age from nine to eleven years old, playfully traipsed after me in their sparkling new designer galoshes as I led them from Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s Welcome Hut around into the sloping potbellied pig field for their Volunteer Day.
“Are we going to scoop…pooooop?” asked one girl, her voice rising upward like a slide whistle accompanied by a face contorted into unspeakable crescendos.
“It would be very nice of us,” said I, raising a pitchfork to my side and motioning for the girls to circle around, “as these little loves depend upon CAS to provide them with proper affection, food, water and shelter. Part of that entails scooping up their poop every day.”
The potbellied pigs eyed the group of girls, snouts to the air and tails wagging, perhaps wondering if the day would bring treats or belly rubs or even better…both. This porcine crew knows the group volunteer gig pretty well. The shy pigs wander off to private corners, where they know we will respect their privacy. Suspicious pigs stand at a distance, smelling and rooting and planning and waiting. The extroverts wander over and introduce themselves with little nudges of their wet, sensitive noses against willing hands, legs and giggles. Shy Girl, who is, as her name implies, normally a quite timid resident at CAS, has days where she will waddle over to check out groups. Chopper, who eagerly falls over sideways at the mere suggestion of a hand heading toward his belly, can have shy days, too. Pigs, just like people and all other animals, have their moods. Today wasn’t one of those days for our friendly guy, Ozzie. He sauntered over, tail flailing a mile a minute with a clear look of warmth upon his face as his nose wiggled and pointed, smelling from girl to girl, likely anticipating his healthy dose of love and affection for the day, but not before…
One pointed finger became two then five then ten until a pitchy horror of shrieking girl chorus erupted,“EeeEEEEeeeeEEEw! He’s pooping NOW!”
At times like these, teaching moments choose us; those of us brave enough not to shy away from the challenge of poop discussions with little girls sporting designer galoshes in pink and yellow polka dots know what we must do. For those of us who make the conscious decision not to dilute the poop topic but rather to embrace the opportunity for heightened compassion, these moments are precious...even when faced with little girl squeals.
“Everybody poops, right?” I asked, looking around from surprised to disgusted to embarrassed faces. “This is Ozzie. He and other pigs are actually quite courteous when they go to the bathroom,” I continued. “When given the amount of space they need, pigs use one area for their bathroom breaks, another area for eating and yet another area for sleeping! What do you think would happen if our pig friends didn’t poop?”
“We wouldn’t have to pick it up!” exclaimed one child, affirming my theory that there really is at least one silly kid in every group.
“Hmmm. True,” I answered.“But how do you feel when you don’t go to the bathroom when you need to go?”
“Bad. My tummy aches and I feel bad if I hold it too long,” said another.
“Right; and we wouldn’t want our pig friends to feel that way, would we?” All the girls’ heads nodded no, emphatically. “Plus, what can most people do that pigs and other animals can’t, to our knowledge?”
“Excuse themselves to go to the bathroom!” hollered one girl, hand waving over her head.
“That is a very astute point.” I replied. “There is something else humans can do that not many other animals can. What do you think that might be?” Hands shot up. I lifted a brow and extended an inviting hand to one girl who looked as though she might burst if she kept her answer in any longer.
“Ask their moms to drive cars to other bathrooms!” she sang out. Kids come out with the darndest things.
“Also a very good point,” I said. “So when you decide to excuse yourself or when you decideto ask your mom for help, rather than going to the bathroom on the floor, what is it you’re doing?”
“Deciding!” came a shout from one girl, who had really listened as I hung on the word decide.
“Exactly!” I encouraged,“Humans have the gift of intellect, which helps us make good decisions and come to correct conclusions about what is true or real and about how to solve problems. Other animals are smart and can learn human words and signs, and are very often effective at initiating communication and interaction with people. Animals have family units and friends; they think, feel love, suffer pain, and communicate with one another the same as we do...but in their own languages. They do not have the same level of advanced intellect that humans have, though, so in a human-powered world, this often puts animals in danger of being hurt, like if they were left out in fields full of their own poop, which would distress them and could also make them physically sick. This is one of the many kind ways in which people can take care of animals. We pick up their poop in the same way that we take care of our baby brothers’ and sisters’ poop when we help change their diapers.”
“Hey, why don’t pigs wear diapers?” asked the one quota-filling silly girl, with a practiced look of sincerity. I walked right into that one.
The girls and I talked a little more about what it means to allow animals the dignity of their nature, to allow pigs to poop in their latrine area, to allow chickens to flap their wings, to allow cows to live free from milk machines, to allow the planet to live free from pollution, and to allow people the right to live free from wrongful discrimination.
It wasn’t long before the girls were ambitiously scooping poop and satisfying Ozzie’s loving need for affection. They understood the good they were doing to help our pig friends, and with this newfound understanding and context of the help they were providing, the girls were happy to open their hearts to a stinky but necessary chore in order to lend a hand. The fires of compassion grew stronger in the girls’ hearts that day as their perspectives and experiences widened to include animals.
I got to thinking, this really is the foundation for Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s Camp Kindness program, our vegan summer day camp for kids. At Camp Kindness, we offer kids opportunities for deciding to live with greater compassion. We provide facts about the impacts of animal-based agriculture on animals, people and the planet and we empower kids to think critically about
this wonderful world we share. Telling a child that he or she should be kind to animals is a nice start; teaching kids that they each have the power to lead lives based upon deciding to be nice to animals is a world-changing paradigm shifter.
At Camp Kindness, trained Humane Educators work closely with the small camp groups to empower each child to think freely, carefully and independently, and to arrive at their own conclusions and truths, as guided by the spirit of compassion for all.
The age-appropriate lesson plans are mapped out well in advance of the four one-week long camp sessions, but each is molded like clay as it unfolds to meet the shifting needs of the individual kids and to positively reflect the group dynamic in order to bring out the best in each child.
Kids are encouraged to think critically about food production issues, animal rights, the environment and their own health at Camp Kindness. One-on-one interaction with our animal friends is a key aspect of camp, enabling kids to learn about animal behavior and personalities as well as animal care.
Kids leave camp understanding that every animal is a unique individual, which helps those who do not otherwise have an opportunity to mingle with traditionally farmed animals. Everyone leaves feeling supported and knowing that they are not alone; that feeling compassion for animals is indeed a wonderful and inspiring thing.
At Camp Kindness, kids are presented with facts and asked to think creatively and compassionately, and they leave with plenty of tools from which to choose, from vegan cooking skills and recipes to journaling for expressing feelings to growing their own food and gaining experience with animals and getting to know the personalities of a few critters. Camp Kindness helps to reinforce what compassionate parents teach their children every day; that all animals are thinking, breathing, feeling beings worthy of our love and respect; that we may each positively impact the world by deciding to make compassionate choices; that being kind to one another, to animals and to the planet feels good!
I left CAS at the end of this Girl Scout Volunteer Day feeling a strong sense of hope for the future and really looking forward to this year’s Camp Kindness sessions. If we can encourage little girls in glittering galoshes to set aside their dislike of poop in order to lend a hand to pigs in need, we can do just about anything, including making the world a more compassionate place...one child at a time.
To learn more about Camp Kindness or register your child for a session, click here:
To learn more about other CAS programming this season, including the weekend-long Vegan Parenting Workshop in July, click here.
Melissa Gates has directed two statewide animal rights organizations and is currently serving as the Director of Programs at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, New York. She is a longtime vegan and community organizer for animals, people, and the planet, with nearly two decades of experience in the field. When not engrossed in her work, Melissa can often be seen out & about advocating for justice, hiking, exploring New York's live music scene or snuggling up by her fireplace with some great jazz, a good book & feline friends Eden-Shade, Mama Shed, Sumo Monster, Cito Mosquito Fernandez Jones & Levon Whitey Gates.
I'm honored to introduce this next post by Zoe Weil, co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education. Zoe is a leader in her field, and an inspiration to those who seek to make the world a kinder, more sustainable and just place for all (including animals). In this post she offers useful tips on how to raise a humane child in challenging times. A great post to share with other parents and educators.
Guest post by Zoe Weil, co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education
When asked about their deepest hopes for their children, most parents don’t mention elite colleges, the best outfits, high SAT scores, athletic prowess, or future prom queens. Above all, most parents want their children to be happy and kind. They want them to have abiding values that will carry them through life and enable them to be good, hard-working, successful people whom others like and respect. They want them to make healthy and wise choices and put their talents and skills into practice in meaningful ways. In a word, they want their children to be humane, embodying the best qualities of human beings.
Raising a humane child is challenging in today’s world. Parents are often raising their children in opposition to cultural norms. While today’s society promotes materialism, junk food, myopia, and endless competition, many parents want their children to experience wonder, to be healthy and wise, and to learn to collaborate. These parents are often trying to inculcate awe, compassion, gratitude and respect for self and others (including the natural world and other species), while their culture is busy producing ever more entitled,“screen-addicted” teenagers. It’s not an easy task to raise children even within a culture that supports one’s values, but it’s much harder when one’s deepest values are contradicted daily, in school, through the media, and within mainstream culture.
What’s a parent to do?
By utilizing the tools of the humane educator, parents can challenge cultural norms and raise their children to embrace those values their family holds dear. Humane educators rely on four key elements to teach children how they can be conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers and to put their deepest values into practice in concrete, practical ways. They are:
• To provide accurate information (in age appropriate ways) about the challenges of our time
• To foster the 3 Cs of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking
• To instill the 3 Rs of reverence, respect, and responsibility
• To offer positive choices and the tools for problem-solving
Finally, humane educators seek to model their message for their students by cultivating the 3 Is of inquiry, introspection, and integrity so that they, themselves, are lifelong learners who seek out knowledge that will allow them to live more humanely, who self reflect to understand where the confluence of their new knowledge and their actions lies, and who live with integrity to the best of their ability putting their values into action.
Parents can do this, too. By choosing humane products and foods, going outside in nature instead of to the mall, living consciously and conscientiously, they will model their own message of humane living. The next step is becoming their children’s first humane educator and teaching them about the challenges of our time. While it’s very important that parents don’t expose their young children to atrocities, by nurturing their reverence for others, human and nonhuman as well as the natural world, and by slowly introducing information in age appropriate ways, fostering their critical and creative thinking about that information, and offering them opportunities to make a difference, parents can raise their children to be humane.
Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times by Zoe Weil
For those parents interested in learning more about how to do this, I invite you to read my book, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and to register for the Institute for Humane Education’s online course for parents, “Raising a Humane Child.”
Editor's Note: If you are an educator, please sign up for Teaching for a Positive Future - a 6-week online course for only $135 to learn skills, tools and insight for teaching students critical and creative thinking about social justice, environmental ethics and animal protection. It's money well spent.
I've read both, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life by Zoe Weil and they are both excellent books. They will inspire you to change your way of thinking, and you'll look at many things including current systems, industries, products and habits/traditions in a new light. I highly recommend these books for individuals, parents and educators who want to make the world a better place for all.
You can follow the Institute for Humane Education's blog: Humane Connection.
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers online graduate programs in humane education through an affiliation with Valparaiso University, online professional development courses, Summer Institutes for educators, and free, downloadable activities and lesson plans at its awarding winning resource center on its website: www.HumaneEducation.org. Zoe is the author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education; Nautilus Silver Medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind:Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times, and Moonbeam Gold Medal winner for juvenile fiction, Claude and Medea, which follows the adventures of 12-year-olds in New York City who are inspired by an eccentric teacher to right wrongs where they find them. She has given an acclaimed TEDx talk, “The World Becomes What You Teach” and blogs at www.zoeweil.com. Zoe holds master’s degrees from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow her on Twitter at ZoeWeil and become her friend on Facebook.
Attention parents....and educators! Michelle Carr from PETA gives us some tips and ideas for getting kids involved in helping animals. Order free materials and get started right away!
Guest post by Michelle Carr from PETA
Kids have the desire and the power to create an animal-friendly world. However, the mistreatment of animals, from factory farms to the circus, makes it challenging for them to understand the importance of compassion. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has an entire website dedicated to kids
, and it's packed full of animal-friendly games, contests, and ways to help animals. You can also sign up for the PETA Kids E-News
so that we can send you tips and suggestions on how to incorporate activism into your child's everyday life.
Kids naturally don't want to see animals get hurt, but how can kids get active for animals? The best way to help animals is simply to stop eating them! From chicken-free nuggets
to soy grilled cheese
, there are so many vegan options out there that kids will never miss eating animals! Need some more ideas? There are a ton of resources for cruelty-free eating that you can find here
. Yum!A FEW IDEAS FOR GETTING KIDS INVOLVED IN HELPING ANIMALS
1) If you live with an animal companion, take your dog out for a long walk with your child and show him or her how to respect Fido by giving him the care and attention that he deserves.
2) Passing out leaflets also helps animals. You can make your own
or order some
3) Set up an information table outside your local mall or library with your child, and hand out leaflets about cruelty to animals. This fun activity will provide you with the opportunity to bond with your child while standing up for an important cause!
4) Join a local protest against the circus or some other animal issue that kids are interested in.
ORDER The Kids' Guide to Helping Animals
Are you or anyone you know an educator? PETA has a humane-education division, TeachKind
, which is a great resource for teachers, administrators, and librarians who want to help teach children respect for all animals. TeachKind offers free lesson plans
as well as free materials
such as books, DVDs, posters, coloring pages, stickers to K-12 and college educators that will help put empathy and compassion for animals in the classroom.
Teaching children respect for all animals will create a kinder world, and with these two great resources, PETA Kids
, you can help animals live happy lives.
If you are a parent or educator, please visit our website and order materials so we can help you get your kids involved in helping animals!
Michelle Carr is a graduate of the University of Maryland with a Bachelors degree in Sociology/Social Psychology. Michelle currently works for PETA and is the founder of No Animals Harmed (http://noanimalsharmed.com/), a blog dedicated to compassionate living. Michelle resides in Los Angeles, with her rescued companion dog, Callie.