The Game Theory of Green Parenting

by Kim   |   March 4, 2009

A post from yesterday asked, "is it possible to attract kids’ attention from Gummi Worms to vermicomposting?"  The question was in the context of a discussion about the use of DIsney animated characters in a campaign to teach kids good eating habits. I got to thinking that maybe my statement that we're trying to "eliminate the ersatz in everything," might be taken as a rejection of fantasy, stories, and, well, fun, as being valid teaching tools. That is not at all the case.

From the Non-Consumer Advocate comes news of a perfect example of fun that connects kids to real-world issues. is an online game that donates a grain of rice ten grains of rice* to the UN World Food Program every time you get an answer right. It's a mind-bogglingly elegant way to turn kids' electronic game addiction into something positive, for themselves and the planet.

A positive example of a fantasy (television show) leading kids to involvement in the real world is the so-called "CSI Effect." Schools across the country have seen an increasing number of applications to their forensic science programs since the advent of the CSI television series. I think this shows the power of stories to interest people in a subject they might have found dry or boring before.

Even the First Family, which Civil Eats blogger Eddie Gehman Kohan advanced as a better "brand" to market the food pyramid to kids, even these real-life people have already been gilded with the "Camelot" aura of fantasy. I still think the statements the Obamas make about food--what they serve at state dinners, how they shape the school lunch debate--are very important. But maybe we shouldn't be drawing such a distinction between animated characters like Pinocchio and the people acting out the real-life drama of the presidency.Yet the President doesn't exactly have a whole theme park/toy line dedicated to him as the Disney products do. And Obama has stressed national service opportunities for young people that want to go to college. Whereas the Disney message is more pure entertainment.

Narrative, images, and entertainment are powerful teaching tools. They are also ubiquitous draws upon young people's attention, so it stands to reason that educators, and green movement activists, should try to harness these forces for good. After all, I guess the case could be made for parenting being the ultimate high-stakes marketing effort: motivating responsible behavior by sweetening the pill a little bit.

A New York-area water activist had alerted me to a game, based upon the Chutes and Ladders design, whose purpose is to teach water conservation. A quick search turned up several repurposed kids' favorites used to transmit environmental concepts. Safe drinking water teaching aids from California use Chutes and Ladders for their "Pumps and Pipes" water conservation game, and Clue for their Household Hazardous Waste Game.

Any parents have fun ways to teach green values and/or social responsibility to your kids?

*Thanks for the correction, Katy Wolk-Stanley, The Non-Consumer Advocate