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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.

Earth Day Challenge: Get outside and PLAY!

By Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator Kirsten Dallimore

April 5, 2017

Earth Day is coming up on April 22. What is your school community doing to celebrate during Earth Week?

Sunshine and Smiles. Photo by Terri Boizard.

Earth Week is a time to celebrate and join together to work toward sustaining and building healthy and vibrant communities. This year I invite every class to take part in a challenge to get outside and PLAY!  Play is an essential part to a child’s development and play-based learning leads to greater social, emotional and academic success. Play is how children explore the world around them. According to research conducted by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, “intentional play-based learning enables children to investigate, ask questions, solve problems, and engage in critical thinking.”

It is important to provide your students with the opportunity go outside and allow them to engage in self-directed free play in nature.

How do you make this happen? It’s easy!

Instead of taking them to the built playground structure on the school ground, take your students to a place where the natural landscape and vegetation is accessible to them. This could mean an open grassy field or, if you’re lucky, a nearby forest. Believe it or not, once the kids are immersed in a natural space they will automatically start to explore, climb, run and ask questions and make observations about what they are seeing on their own.

On your first visit to this natural space, I suggest taking out with you basic supplies to get you started. These could include items such as magnify glasses, small trowels, paper and pencils for nature sketching, or items for a nature scavenger hunt (find scavenger hunt ideas here!) These items would be used to help kids get started in exploring nature. By the second or third visit you should no longer be needing any additional tools to get kids engaged.

The kids will start to immerse themselves in free play and will rely more on nature to provide the tools for interaction and investigation. Ideally, if you are able to continue with taking your kids outside on a regular basis (once or twice a week) for self-directed play, you will start to observe some changes in behavior.

Mason by the Sooke seashore. Photo by Jess Alford.

A deep nature connection activity I highly suggest is a “sit spot.” A sit spot provides time for students to find their own place in nature, sit quietly, and take time to observe and reflect on what is happening around them. Sit spots are an ideal way to start off your nature play time each time you go outside as a class. Observing seasonal changes throughout the year at their sit spot will enable your students to develop a deeper nature connection to a place.  Starting this week, in celebration of Earth Day, take your students outside and enable them to play outside in nature.

Looking for a special event to be a part of as a school community during Earth Week?

EarthPLAY for Earth Day is an Earth Day Canada initiative to get schools more involved in taking their students outside. Earth Day Canada is inviting schools across the country to get outside and play during the week leading up to Earth Day on April 22. They suggest taking an extended recess or hosting a whole day of popup adventure play at your school.

This is an amazing opportunity to connect kids with nature through outdoor, active, self-directed and unstructured play. Encourage kids to get outside no matter the weather or how much nature your school site offers. This is a valuable opportunity for children to create their own playground through outdoor play. Register your school and get tips and a tool kit for an EarthPLAY event at your school.

 

Earth Day community events happening around BC on April 22:

VICTORIA: Celebrate Community and Sustainability at the 6th Annual Creatively United Sustainability Showcase at the Royal BC Museum

VICTORIA: Bioblitz of Garry Oak Ecosystems

SURREY: Party for the Planet

NORTH VANCOUVER: Celebrate Earth Day at Mahon Park!

KELOWNA: Celebrate Biodiversity at the Kelowna Museum

 

Feature image by K. Zolotas.

Deep nature connection in the modern world: Coyote Mentoring

By Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator Kirsten Dallimore

There are two worlds: the modern world of science and technology, and the ancient world where we use our wild instincts to survive and understand what is happening around us. In our modern world, many of us have lost the deep nature connection our ancestors had. It’s time to ignite our wild instincts once again.

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv wrote about nature deficit disorder. Louv expresses concern about our quality of life in the modern world on all levels—emotional, spiritual, mental, physical, cultural, and ecological. We are starting to understand that nature is fundamental to our overall well-being—and so we should all be getting some daily Vitamin (N)ature.

Snow Bunting

Snow bunting

However, in our busy modern lives, it is difficult to fully understand that deep nature connection is more than just a walk in the forest. Although this is a start, a deep nature connection must take place over the long term. Deep nature connection is about how we humans connect to nature, to other people, and to ourselves.  It is about the knowledge and connection to place that is ingrained into a culture.

Deep nature connection is not on the radar for many of us because we don’t actively learn it from a young age. So how can we humans living in the modern world integrate a deep nature connection into our lives and our children’s lives through education?

Coyote mentoring is a unique educational approach that has been developed over the past 25 years by Jon Young at the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington State. It uses children’s passion and excitement for nature as a catalyst to actively engage them in their learning process. Deep nature connection through coyote mentoring is an approach I have started to incorporate into my nature teachings at Sierra Club BC.

Coyote

Coyote

Deep nature connection through coyote mentoring is full of storytelling and music. It follows a child’s passion, incites awareness, and follows a natural cycle. Experimentation and play encourage adventure and fun. Children stretch their curiosity to the edge of nature learning—and through this comes healing and empowerment.

When there is a bird or an animal in the forest, do you hear it? Do you see it? Or are you too distracted and disconnected by the modern world to even notice it? Do you know what is happening around you? Are we so disconnected in the modern world that we are missing out on the natural things that surround us in our lives?

Coyote mentoring calls on us to stretch our awareness and become trained to see what is happening all around us each time we are in nature. As a mentor, my role is to help train kids how to listen and observe nature. I provide them with the support they need to break from old habits and create a fresh awareness about nature.

As Jon Young explains, our ecological footprint tells us we can’t afford not to be aware of things that are happening around us in nature. It’s quite simple: if people don’t connect with nature, they won’t love it. If they don’t love it, then they likely won’t support conservation efforts. If we don’t have a population of people who care about the earth, then we don’t have the capacity to create change.

White Tailed Deer

White-tailed deer

Coyote mentoring is a journey of self-knowledge and a bond between humans and nature. We meet people where they are on their journey. When my students are afraid of experiencing something in nature, I do not push them. I wait until they are ready to explore. Kinship with the land must be established first—then first-hand experiences with the natural world will happen. People break out of their comfort zones and old habits and begin to have a fresh awareness.

Much happens below the surface through this type of mentoring. This is called the invisible school. The invisible school is a place where mentors pass on knowledge and provide a place for deep connection. It enables that connection to become ingrained into a culture to the point where people connect with nature without even thinking about it.

Deep nature connection was a feature of ancient societies for thousands of years. It can still take place in our modern world. I believe this journey is a very valuable one if we want to see a bright, healthy future in our modern world.

Recommended resources on deep nature connection:

Video: Jon Young Speaks About the Role of Deep Nature Connection in Culture Repair

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Evan McGown and Ellen Haas

Oak and Orca Forest School

Forest School Canada

Victoria Nature School

Fresh Air Learning

Soaring Eagle Nature School

Wilderness Awareness School

GreenHeart Education

My favourite environmental children’s books

By Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator Kirsten Dallimore

February 2017

One of my favorite things to do with a class is to read them a story. I use stories as a way to introduce myself and to share an important key message about nature and our connection as people to nature. Stories enable children to get hooked and become engaged in a program.

This month I would like to share with you three storybooks that I read in my workshops to spark nature connection. These stories help share a message about sustainability, local ecosystems and the importance of environmental stewardship.

 

“The Tree in the Ancient Forest” written by Carol Reed-Jones and illustrated by Christopher Canyon is a beautiful story about the interdependence of the plants and animals that live in old-growth forests. Students are reminded of their own dependence upon nature and the importance of preserving and respecting living things.

I have a lot of fun reading this story because of its rhyming and repetitive word patterns. It allows the students to join in the story and follow along in a fun and interactive way. I highly recommend this book to any classes that are learning about relationships between species in their local ecosystem.

 

 

 

“The Little Hummingbird” written by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is an Indigenous story about a little hummingbird that is doing its best to take care of its home. Children love this story because it is so simple and leaves them feeling empowered. They understand that more than likely the little hummingbird was probably not able to put out the fire alone, but the fact that little hummingbird did something at all is what is most important.

Children feel a strong connection to animals and compassion for them. They see themselves in this story as the little hummingbird and wonder what they would have done in this situation. I always ask them what they believe the lesson is from the little hummingbird and they come back with the same answer every time: “it doesn’t matter your size, we all can make an impact, so always do your best to protect your home.” I recommend this story to anyone who needs a simple reminder of the importance of always doing your part to protect the environment.

 

 

“Wild Berries” written and illustrated by Julie Flett is a lovely Cree storybook about a grandmother and grandson going out to pick wild blueberries. This story really ties in well with our “Going Wild! People & Plants” program. The key message delivered in this book is about sustainability. It reminds us of those special moments when we truly make a connection out in nature.

While the story takes you on a small journey about going out to pick wild berries, it really draws on the connections that are developed over time between people and the land.  Students are able to easily relate to the story because it is simple and clear about how they too can make connections with all living things in nature. I highly recommend this story to everyone who loves picking and eating wild berries.

Here are some more of my favourite environmental children’s books:

Eagle’s Reflection and other Northwest Coast Stories by Robert James Challenger

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer

West Coast Wild: A Nature Alphabet by Deborah Hodge

Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson

From the Mountains to the Sea We Share the Seasons by Brenda Boreham and Terri Mack

Nowhere Else on Earth: Standing Tall for the Great Bear Rainforest by Caitlyn Vernon

Why Our Children Need to Get Outside and Engage with Nature

By Guest Contributor Louise Pedersen

December 2016

Children spend less and less time in contact with the natural world and this is having a huge impact on their health and development.

Since the 1970s, there has been a vast accumulation of evidence to support the critical importance of nature for human health and well-being. Access to nature results in positive physical and mental health outcomes, enhanced attention and learning, and social and emotional well-being. Time in nature buffers the stress of fast-paced urban life and builds emotional resilience.

Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator Kirsten Dallimore exploring nature with Ecole Poirier students.

Evidence of the benefits of access to nature applies to people of all ages and at all stages of life. However, time in nature as a child is particularly important. It contributes positively to development of the whole child and lays the foundation for future health and emotional well-being as well as a lifelong connection to the natural world.

Early, sustained in-nature experiences are also predictive of future support of conservation and environmentally responsible choices. Thus childhood time in nature is critical both for human health and the health of the planet.

There is a well-developed body of knowledge of the many benefits of time spent in nature. The consequences of not having a nature-rich life is also well documented and reached the mainstream over a decade ago in Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.

It is somewhat surprising then that this generation of children spends significantly less time in nature than their parents did. Canadian children are increasingly sedentary, spending an average of 6-7 hours per day engaged in screen-based, solitary activities (2011 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card) and less than one hour outside (David Suzuki Foundation). This troubling trend is affecting children’s connection to the natural world as well as their ability to learn, their social development and their health. This issue is multifaceted and complex: urbanization, the seductive lure of technology, and an increasingly risk-averse and litigious culture are all contributors.

NatureKids BC (formerly the Young Naturalists’ Club of BC Society) is a grassroots registered charity that helps children get outdoors to explore, play, learn about and take action for nature. Like Sierra Club BC, NatureKids is working to change the trend away from nature engagement, primarily through levers of access and opportunity.

We do this through an award-winning network of volunteer-led Family Nature Clubs that extends across BC. Together with our volunteer club leaders, nature mentors and donors, we share a vision of working together to help children develop a love of nature and a lifelong connection to the natural world while building environmental literacy and skills that will enable them to take action for nature.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern saw-whet owl

Thousands of children have participated in the NatureKids BC program since its inception in 2000. Program Alumni tell us their experiences with NatureKids BC helped embed in them a love of the natural world and a desire to protect it. NatureKids BC members have gone on to restore bogs, raise salmon fry, conduct humpback whale research, and share the wonder of the natural world with others.

Last year alone, we helped 1500+ children enjoy 4700 outdoor nature experiences across BC. And this is important because we now know that children need nature.

NatureKids BC publishes NatureWILD Magazine for kids. It’s the only magazine written about BC wildlife and ecosystems for elementary-aged youth. Each issue features fun and informative articles written by top BC naturalists and biologists, stories about children taking action for the environment, easy-to-read stories, and much more.

Through a School Membership, Teachers receive NatureWILD three times a year. Each issue comes with an accompanying Curriculum Guide linking it to the BC curriculum and helping teachers meet crosscurricular learning outcomes. NatureKids BC School Membership supports teachers in their efforts to incorporate place-based learning into the classroom and nature into the school community. It helps teachers address the big ideas and core curricular competencies for science, as well as other subjects such as math and language arts.

Learn more at NatureKids BC.

Thanks for teaching us about plants!

In fall 2015, our environmental educator Kirsten Dallimore, was up in the Okanagan visiting schools and teaching children about people, plants and the ways that we interact.

Through her program, students are invited to get to know local plants and learn ways aboriginal and non-aboriginal cultures use the plants.

At the end of the day, Kirsten asked her students to draw their favourite part of the day. Here are some of the responses:

Find out more about our environmental education programs here.