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Road with trees on both sides
simple living for a sustainable future  
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discussion circles | what they discuss

healthy children, healthy planet (hchp)

If you're a parent or grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a teacher, or anyone who cares about what's going on with our kids, this is the discussion guide for you!

As our economy shifts and enables us to buy less stuff than we used to, an opportunity is created to reflect on what our children really need from us. Is it stuff or non-material things? How can we best do for our children and for the Earth?

The readings hinge on three key themes:

  • How do the pervasive effects of advertising, media, and our consumer culture influence a child's view of the world?
  • How can we each create meaningful family times and healthful environments for children?
  • How can we foster children's connection to nature and foster creativity?

This discussion guide was created by the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) in 2006. Topics covered in 8 sessions:

1. Cultural Pressures:  A powerful fusion of pop culture and peer influence creates a social smog that has a strong influence on today’s children, says author and doctor Ron Taffel.  How should adults respond to these pressures? Excerpts and Readings: “Introduction” by Jeanne and Dick Roy ~ “The Parents’ Bill of Rights” by Jonathan Rowe and Gary Ruskin ~ “Taking a Year Off from Buying” by Kym Miller ~ “Thirsty in the Rain” by Mary Pipher ~ “Resisting the Peer Cultures of Children and Parents” by William J. Doherty ~ “Two- Wheel Drive” by Susan Vogt

2. Family Rituals and Celebrations:  Meaningful family time can provide an antidote to cultural pressures of consumption.  Explore how ritual can enrich a child’s family experience and examine alternatives to elaborate celebrations and gifts. Excerpts and Readings: “Expecting Participation in Family Life” by William J Doherty ~ “Simplicity” by Katrina Kenison ~ “The Christmas Fulfillment Drama” by Amy Dacyczyn ~ “Parties Without Presents” by Jean Sherman Chatsky ~ “The Mother of Men” by Denise Roy ~ “Simple Pleasures and Family Rituals” by Marie Sherlock ~ “Principles for Family Rituals” by William J. Doherty

3. Advertising:  The average child sees an estimated 20,000 commercials every year.  What are the effects on our children, and what steps can adults take to lessen the impact? Excerpts and Readings: “The Religion of the Ad” by Brian Swimme ~ “McTeachers and Coke Dudes” by Eric Schlosser ~  “Crossing the Line” by Brita Butler-Wall ~ Excerpts from Born to Buy by Juliet Schor ~ “Communicating Your Convictions/Coping with Peer Pressure” by Marie Sherlock ~ “What Do Children Want that Money Can’t Buy?”

4. Food and Health:  Many schools serve high-fat lunches, soda, and candy is readily available on school grounds.  What is the link between diet and learning?  How can adults encourage children to include healthy foods in their meals? Excerpts and Readings: “Unhappy Meals” by Barry Yeoman ~ “Food for Thought” by Nathaniel Mead ~ “Field of Dreams” by Theresa Johnston ~ “Children at Risk” by Jennifer Bogo ~ “Farmers’ Markets” by Deborah Madison

5. Time and Creativity:  Today’s children may have schedules that rival the busiest adults.  How can adults help children find balance between activities and unstructured time, which is often the source of creativity? Excerpts and Readings: “Human Beings – Or Human Doings?” by Marie Sherlock ~ “The Cauldron of Creativity” by Nancy H. Blakey ~ “Nurture Your Child’s Creativity” by Katrina Kenison ~ “Access Overload” quiz by Mimi Doe ~ “What Ever Happened to Play?” by Walter Kim and Wendy Cole ~ “Strategies for Protecting Families” by Mary Pipher

6. Technology and the Media:  Opinions differ on whether computers hinder or help the natural process of child development.  Watching TV can displace more valuable experiences.  What steps can adults take to create a healthy media environment at home? Excerpts and Readings: “Turning Off the Television” by JoAnn Farb ~ “It’s Not What You Watch” by Marie Winn ~ “Education: The Best Investment” by Bill Gates ~ “Developmental Risks” edited by C. Cordes and E. Miller ~ “Parents: The First Line of Defense”by James Steyer

7. Exploring Nature:  Children have an affinity for the natural world and as Rachel Carson says, “an inborn sense of wonder.”  As children spend more time indoors, they connect less to the wild places in their neighborhood.  How can we give children the opportunity to connect with the natural world? Excerpts and Readings: Excerpt from The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson ~ “Coming Home” by Gregory Smith ~ “Ecophobia” by David Sobel ~ “Slowing Down” by John L. Bower ~ “The Story of the Sunflower House” by Sharon Lovejoy ~ “A Child’s Sense of Wildness” by Gary Paul Nabhan

8. Wrap-Up. This last meeting may happen at a different place and time, and is often a potluck meal. Your group will start by evaluating the circle experience. Then, you'll decide what you wish to do next (together or separately). You will also learn of many ways to stay involved in our wider community of like-minded people. If your group is so inclined, the wrap-up is also a great time to plan a community project together.


see our monthly announcement or get in touch with your neighborhood's volunteer point of contact to find out about circles who are about to discuss this guide. Or, order a guide and start your own.

Cover Healthy Children guide

local opinions about this guide

hchp 2-sided description (PDF, 134 KB) with reading list

hchp flyer to advertise an intro meeting: Editable (in Word) or fill out by hand, in B/W (PDF 149 KB) or in color (PDF 293 KB)

hchp evaluation form (PDF, 168 KB) - If you're sharing or re-using a guide

hchp circle schedule PDF, 58 KB | MS Word, 74 KB

discuss these issues online in one of our four yahoogroups

videos about issues discussed in this guide

"What Do Children Really Want?" (PDF, 492 KB) published by SMEI volunteer Lena Rotenberg in Frederick's Child Magazine (July/Aug 2008)

Introducer / mentor sampler HCHP 2006 (PDF, 734 KB)