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Nature and Childhood - Win-Wins for the Child, City and Planet

Panelists reflect on the importance of creating child-friendly policies that allow for greater access to nature

Participants of the fourth Parks for the Planet Forum, Nature and Childhood: From Research and Activism to Policies for Global Change

Oscar Tollast | 09.03.2018

Forward-thinker and co-founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, once said, “Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.” One way to embrace change, whether incremental or rapid, is to provide evidence of “wins” for policymakers, businesses and other stakeholders.

Participants of Nature and Childhood: From Research and Activism to Policies for Global Change considered the benefits of providing children greater access to nature and outdoor play, during the second day of the program.

Three panelists helped participants consider the wins which would derive from childhood development, health and wellbeing, and education. The panel included Margaret Lamar, vice-president for strategic initiatives at the Children & Nature Network; Alexander Plum, director of development and innovation at the Global Health Initiative; and Margaret Otiento, CEO, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya.

Lamar indicated learning in nature can support relationship skills and reduce stress and aggression. It also enables children to focus, sit quietly, and observe their surroundings. When children connect to nature at an early age, they can develop environmental ethics for life.

The Wildlife Clubs of Kenya is already practicing this model. Members of staff visit schools and provide children information about the environment so they can help conserve nature. Otiento suggested nature was the best classroom children could have.

Plum said societies must consider social, economic and environmental factors when developing health and health care initiatives. Building on this point later, Plum noted making nature normative and putting it back into the middle of an urban context could alter current mindsets. Nature doesn’t have to be a distant concept; it is present in cities.

Stephanie Sanderson, a consultant for the WAZA Nature Connect Program, World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, suggested exposure to nature is not enough, however. Speaking in a subsequent panel discussion, Sanderson said a meaningful connection to nature requires contact, emotion, meaning, compassion, and beauty.

South Africa is facing challenges relating to youth unemployment and education, according to Sabelo Lindani, head of Green Futures College at the Grootbos Foundation. Lindani revealed the Foundation uses different activities to connect young people and communicate with nature.

Humans, after all, are part of a wider ecosystem. This view was shared by Jo Nurse, a strategic advisor to the InterAction Council. Nurse, who initially qualified as a medical doctor, said if the planet were a human, it would be diagnosed as “seriously ill.”

Having a common vision is one of the most powerful things we can do – advocating win-win-win solutions that consider the environment, society and health.

Participants explored terms and concepts which could be used to influence systems change and “save the planet” in a short exercise. “Own it,” “Vitality,” “Local,” and “Safety,” “Political Will,” and “WWW (Worldwide Wellbeing),” were some of the ideas put forward. One participant, meanwhile, put forward the idea of a “utopia” – not an impossible future, but a desirable one. 

Download Issue 2 of Nature and Childhood: From Research and Activism to Policies for Global Change

Nature and Childhood: From Research and Activism to Policies for Global Change is the fourth session of the multi-year series, Parks for the Planet Forum. The Forum is hosted with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in partnership with the Children and Nature Network, the National League of Cities (NLC) and Outdoor Classroom Day. More information on the session can be found here. Follow the conversation on Twitter using #SGSparks. 

Oscar Tollast