We want all children to have every opportunity to experience love and look after nature every day.
Imagine a forum where you get to take off your shoes and socks for a spot of barefoot networking on the soft grass. Then you find yourself making a sandcastle alongside a government minister, a scientist, and a community leader. You chat about your childhood experiences in nature and how they helped shape the person you are now, and come away inspired to help get more children out into nature.
This inspiring scenario actually happens on a regular basis thanks to the Kids in Nature Network (previously Victorian Child and Nature Connection), a project that emerged out of the 2010 Melbourne Fellowship Program. The Kids in Nature Network was co-founded by Cecile van der Burgh, Dimity Williams, Christine Joy from Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and Sanne de Swart - all CSL alumni.
The aim of the network is simple; reconnecting children with nature to improve the health of both children and nature. “We decided the best way to enable more children to engage with nature was by supporting, connecting and inspiring the people who facilitate the process of connecting children with nature,” says Cecile.
Dimity, a GP, sees firsthand the detrimental effects of children not engaging with nature. “As a doctor, I see how children live today and the changing nature of childhood, including an increase in mental and preventable lifestyle illnesses. Much of this is due to less time spent in nature.”
The wider environmental impacts are equally concerning; without an early connection with nature, how can we expect our children to value it and fight for its protection as adults? Or as Cecile puts it, “ If you don’t love it, why would you care for it?”
It is the child-centred approach that appealed to environmental educator Christine Joy. “The power of this project is that it’s about enriching children’s lives, and through that, the environment will be protected. This is an extremely exciting and refreshing approach” says Christine.
Although they share a love of nature, each team member has her own individual perspective on the Kids in Nature Network; Cecile is passionate about conservation, Sanne, an International Development professional is interested in the community and social justice benefits and Dimity in the interface between human health and environment. “The fact that we were all from different backgrounds, but that we came together around a common passion, and also had a personal connection was very powerful,” says Cecile.
The team credit CSL with helping kick-start the network. Jason Clarke has also helped facilitate their forums. Project mentor “Maree Davidson, helped us to see that there were lots of people out there doing amazing things, but that there wasn’t necessarily a good connection between them all and that’s where we saw we could fit,” says Sanne.
Nature Play Week was a Finalist in the Premier's Sustainability Awards of 2016 and the winners of the People's Choice award in the community category the same year. In May 2017, Nature Play Week also won the "Best event of the year" award at the Parks and Leisure Australia Vic/Tas regional awards.
(Nature Play Week was developed by individuals and organisations involved in the Kids in Nature Network)
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