Kids Need Nature, Nature Needs Kids

By James Davis, Education Program Manager

May 2017

I feel fortunate and grateful that I was able to attend the annual Children & Nature Network International Conference & Summit in Vancouver last month.  The conference was attended by over 900 delegates from Canada, the United States, and more than 20 other countries.

This year marked the first time that the conference has taken place outside of the U.S.  It was held on the unceded territories of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.  Here are some of my highlights from the gathering:

At the opening reception on Tuesday evening I was blown away by Ta’Kaiya Blaney of Tla’Amin First Nation, who received standing ovations after both her inspiring speech and her musical performance.

The Wednesday morning keynote address by Gil Penalosa from 8 80 Cities acknowledged that change is hard and that doing more of the same is easier, but helped us to imagine what our cities would be like if we designed them with both an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old in mind.

Photo by Adina Appenheimer.

Lauraleigh Paul, First Nations Ecology Programmer at Stanley Park Ecology Society, reminded us that if we want to connect our spirits to the spirit of the land, we need to turn to the traditional knowledge keepers who have been in relationship with the land for generations.

I was honoured to meet Joe Akerman and Hwiemtun (Fred Roland) and learn about the Xwaaqw’um Project, a Coast Salish cultural learning hub that they are leading on Saltspring Island.  Joe invited us to move beyond being allies to our First Nations brothers and sisters and to become accomplices.

On Thursday I attended a valuable workshop led by staff from Youth Outside and Education Outside, two fantastic organizations in the Bay Area, about their programs that create opportunities in nature for underrepresented communities.

This focus on diversity, equity and inclusion continued on Friday during the “Grappling with Bias for More Inclusive Youth Programs” workshop that I took part in, which was facilitated by Ava and Aparna from The Avarna Group.  Their website provides a plethora of rich resources.

Keynote speaker Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, said some kind words about our recently retired Executive Director, Bob Peart, and his contribution to the movement in Canada.  He also confronted the enormity of the challenge that we face, admitting that the child and nature movement will not be able to reach everyone, but affirmed that each child that we reach will count.

There were many other inspiring individuals that I had the honour of connecting with over the course of the conference.  I left feeling reinvigorated and even more committed to doing what I can to help children and youth across the province spend more time outside, building a relationship with their natural surroundings!


Feature image by Robin Thorneycroft.