Four polar bear safety coloring books in different languages"

Photo: Erinn Hermsen

Coloring Books Teach Safety Lessons

By Alysa McCall, Director of Conservation Outreach and Staff Scientist



16 Feb 2023

As snow slowly melts and the sun hangs in the sky longer each day, more laughter is heard outside. Kids scramble over playgrounds that have finally been freed from their icy prisons. They ride their bikes up and down the sidewalks, play tag, and kick balls. It’s a carefree time for parents and children alike. But not every community has the same experience.

While the beginning of spring is usually cause for celebration, in some northern regions it can also bring heightened awareness and potential danger. Throughout the Arctic, many communities know that with the melting of sea ice comes the polar bears. And nobody wants polar bears on their playground.

Across the Arctic, the summer’s ice-free period is lengthening as the climate warms. As a result, polar bears are spending more time on land in some regions, where they increasingly run into conflicts with people. Patrols, firearms, bear spray, and dogs can be used as deterrents to help keep people safe from polar bears, but these options can be expensive and such tools can’t be used by children. Parents teach their kids about safety practices, but they’ve also found that such guidance can be significantly reinforced and supported by complementary, and fun, learning materials.

Inside of coloring book sharing safety tips

Photo: Erinn Hermsen

Many years ago, the province of Manitoba in Canada created a coloring book for children in Churchill, a community widely known as the polar bear capital of the world. In recent years, polar bears have been entering the town more often due to the changing sea ice patterns in western Hudson Bay. Because coloring books are universal and entertaining, they can make a fantastic educational tool, helping children learn new things in an unthreatening way. They also give parents and teachers an effective way to talk about tough topics, including how to live safely with polar bears.

A couple of years ago, Manitoba officials approached Polar Bears International for help in updating that coloring book with new graphics and safety messaging. With help from Canadian partners, we collected input on the book from northern communities to decide which messages and images were most relevant and to ensure local knowledge was reflected. After a year of collecting input from different stakeholders and going back and forth with graphic designers at Peppermint Narwhal, we printed and distributed a new version of the Polar Bear Safety Coloring Book in Churchill, Manitoba.

With its fun imagery, activities including a word search, cool facts, and serious safety tips, the coloring book was a huge hit. While the majority of the content applies across the Arctic wherever polar bears live, the book included a special insert completely tailored to Churchill’s unique needs and landscape. Though polar bear safety rules are generally consistent, regional language, culture, geography, and ecology considerations can make big differences in different areas of the Arctic. With that in mind, we soon started on new versions for Russia and Greenland.

Interior of Danish coloring book

Photo: Erinn Hermsen

We followed our same process with international partners. Polar Bears International supported the updating, translating, printing, shipping, and distributing of books to interested communities where polar bears roam at least some of the year. Currently, versions of the book exist for Canada, the U.S., Russia, and Greenland (in Greenlandic and Danish), all with unique images, messages, and activities tailored to community needs. All are focused on keeping kids safer. We are planning to add new languages and versions this year and and also recently developed polar bear safety posters in English and in Cree, with plans for additional languages in the works.

As the world continues to warm and more hungry bears spend longer amounts of time on land due to the loss of their sea ice habitat, concern for both human and bear safety is rising. Effective bear safety tools, including accurate bear safety public messaging, are more important than ever.

A coloring book seems small, but it can facilitate important conversations between adults and children, helping keep both people and polar bears safer.

Special thanks to Yorkshire Wildlife Park for funding the translations and to the Annenberg Foundation for supporting this and other educational projects.