Reduce, reuse, reinvent childhood

Green Kids uses theatre, nature, hands-on activities ‘to get kids to act out physically, letting kids understand their personal impact’

By: Janine LeGal
Posted: 2:00 AM CDT Saturday, May. 21, 2022

daina sitting in chair

In a world where children are at high risk of being impacted by climate change, there’s a consensus that, in addressing crucial environmental issues, the time is now. According to UNICEF Canada, “children are the least responsible for climate change, yet they will be the most affected by its impacts. This is the first time a global generation of children will grow up in a world made far more dangerous and uncertain as a result of a changing climate and degraded environment.”

Knowing the vital role that education plays in creating change, eco-entrepreneur Jeff Golfman founded Winnipeg’s environmental education touring theatre charity for children, Green Kids Inc., in 1991. Green Kids has performed for more than 1.4 million children in more than 1,400 schools across Canada and the United States. Golfman has continued to serve as the volunteer president of Green Kids since its inception and was behind the creation of numerous businesses; one of them, Planit Recycling, was the city’s first blue box initiative.

“The first tour of Green Kids was a big commercial for recycling, driving home that there is recycling to be done,” said executive director Daina Leithold, who since 1996 has been passionately involved in multiple roles with Green Kids, including project management, touring and acting.

“There were three performers, activist friends who had the guts and naiveté to put together a sketch about recycling and the environment. The folks I was working with were environmentalists getting the message out.”

Green Kids was established to address the need for entertaining and educational programming for school-aged children about the importance of environmental awareness. Aimed at inspiring a new generation of environmentally conscious adults, Green Kids’ productions have explored a number of issues including habitat preservation, waste reduction, personal health and welfare, wildlife conservation, sustainable daily habits, organic gardening, agriculture, and the world’s water supply.

“I think it’s foundational,” said Leithold, about the need for early education. “If you hear about things that are so important, the older we get the harder our habits are to break. If kids can start when they’re younger, kids will be teaching their kids.”

Green Kids educates children and teachers about various environmental science themes through a selection of eco-drama workshops and live theatrical pieces that encourage empathy, imagination and humour, while also understanding the issues.

The Landfill Mutant is billed as a hilarious and perilous play written for Grades 5-7 classrooms to produce and perform for their schools and communities. The play addresses household chemical safety, zero waste, active transportation, reducing emissions, household germs and indoor toxins. Support materials include various guides, and a research manual for students.

“Seven Oaks Middle School is in rehearsals right now for their version, to be performed in late June,” said Leithold. “Interested schools can book this for next year.”

Wild Wild Wilderness, offered as a workshop or a full play, demonstrates the connections between habitat, wildlife and human activity. The play, performed by a single actor/storyteller and armfuls of puppets, tells the story of one child’s accidental effect on a nearby forest and its creatures. The 40-minute show is available to schools, daycares or events.

Springtime Science in Your Schoolyard, for Grades 3-6, is performed and facilitated by two professional teaching artists. Participants explore the natural processes occurring under their feet, from plant propagation to the tiny creatures that call this area home and look at how humans affect this habitat and what we can do to live in harmony.

“Over the years we’ve become more theatrical,” said Leithold. “We are environmental education; theatre is the medium. There are descriptive study guides for teachers to get the lessons going in the background. We hire professionals for scripts, directors, dramaturges. There’s an ebb and flow, sketch comedy and fun, theatre and sophisticated metaphor, and big costumes.”

Green Kids performs at elementary and middle schools, as well as for the public, with a variety of programs consisting of plays and theatre workshops.

“We’ve created programs for K to Grade 12. The bulk of programming has been for elementary school. We also do workshops, shows in school, drama and program visits for classrooms. We do one-hour physical theatre taught by performers.

Through watching, moving and drama workshops, we get kids to act out physically, letting kids understand their personal impact.”

Green Kids does commission work for various community organizations, helping to make programs more accessible in unique and memorable ways. The Target Zero program at the Forks, an interactive walking tour that teaches how to minimize our carbon footprint, is one example.

“They commissioned us to write a show, with characters, a tour guide and a dramatic sketch that gets people thinking and laughing,” Leithold said about a show that addresses geothermal heating and saving energy.

“Being commissioned to do things gets us out there. It takes us back to our roots. What we are doing is less of a commercial; it’s an interactive educational experience. We acknowledge and address what is really possible.”

“Show me one thing that wastes energy in-house. How could you do that differently? Turn the TV off.

Bike and Circuses, Green Kids’ first exclusively public event is coming up June 8-12 at Whittier Park. The outdoor family-friendly event celebrating our connection to the earth will feature a cast of 16 performers, in which acrobats, dancers, musicians, puppets, poetry and magic take audiences on a journey through nature.

The 100-per-cent carbon neutral event chooses only eco-friendly materials and transportation. Before and after the show audiences are invited to experience the interactive lobby, featuring family activities, a bike and pedestrian safety station, a compost booth and more. There are matinees and evening shows for cyclists, pedestrians and those pushing strollers.

With the goal of better equipping the younger generation to care for the environment through awareness, Green Kids drama education specialists find new, creative and practical ways to address difficult environmental topics, and provide educators with valuable professional development.

“I hope that people are understanding; respecting the land we leave for our kids is most important. We are the stewards of our kids’ land, and hopefully we make the right choices.”

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