There is growing evidence that being among nature is good for children’s mental and physical wellbeing. At Auckland Botanic Gardens we are developing programmes, activities, and educational opportunities to bring children into the gardens for learning and to enhance their joy of nature.
In order for children to grow up as adults that care about the natural world, it greatly helps if they have developed a love and an appreciation for it during childhood. Or in the words of George Orwell: “I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable…”
But technology, and the distraction offered by the digital world, mean that most children spend less time in nature than they used to. A 2009 study by Natural England found less than 10% of children today play in natural places compared to 40% of children doing so in the 1970s and 1980s.
Which is why we have developed structured introductions to nature, such as focussed activities, opened-ended exploration challenges, outdoor classrooms and holiday programmes designed to engage with the natural environment.
A 2009 study by Natural England found less than 10% of children today play in natural places compared to 40% of children doing so in the 1970s and 1980s.
We have a programme of engagement for children developed by nature educationalist Sarah Robinson. These include in-person holiday activities, monthly sessions for under-5s, and a range of activity sheets that guide parent-child visits to various part of the gardens.
Auckland Council’s Sustainable Schools team, which operates out of the Botanic Gardens, also offers ‘experiential learning’ outside of the classroom for primary and intermediate aged kids. These are lessons that focus on direct experience of the subject, and engaging children’s hands, heads and hearts through learning by doing.
The belief is that children who learn outdoors know more, understand more, feel better, behave better, work more cooperatively and are physically healthier.