It’s crucial we connect our kids with nature ASAP, explains Megan Sommerville, Outreach and Education Programme Developer at the Department of Conservation.
Kiwis like nature. Some of us like it as a concept, part of our Kiwi identity; some of us like it as a recreational pastime; and for some – it’s in our veins. Throughout these varying degrees of connection, trends emerge. More often than not, tamariki follow in their parents’ footsteps. If family camping
trips, hikes, tramping adventures, or beach clean-ups are a regular occurrence, then kids are more likely to catch the nature bug (figuratively speaking, hopefully,) and carry it through to their adulthood.
It’s crucial our young people connect with nature. To bust down barriers and point families in the right
direction, the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Toyota New Zealand have developed the Toyota Kiwi Guardians outdoors programme. This is a self-guided adventure and activity-based programme
which rewards children for getting into nature – whether in their backyards, at a reserve or on public conservation land. And it’s little to no cost. The reward? Legit, tangible medals and certificates which are
posted out. The programme works in two main ways: There’s the Adventure option, where you find a local site at kiwiguardians.co.nz and download an adventure map; and an Action option, where you complete tasks in your backyard, like building a wetã motel. The Action medals are like non-aggressive calendar reminders that it’s time for some nature. We launch Action medals in conjunction with events like Sea Week, Mãori Language Week, and Conservation Week. Find out more at kiwiguardians.co.nz.
The benefits of nature have been well researched and documented. In his book Last Child in the Woods, nature education expert Richard Louv wrote about what he termed “nature-deficit disorder”, saying, “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.” A number of studies back Richard up, indicating children generally play inside more than they do outside. You can find all that research on the Department of Conservation website (doc.org.nz), but in a nutshell,
there’s lots of international research saying we’re not getting kids outside enough. Last year, shocking stats hit the news about children spending less time outside each day than prison inmates.
Nature at our fingertips
In New Zealand, nature is at our fingertips. Even in city centres, we don’t have to go too far to find a slice of greenery or an expanse of ocean. It could be a park, reserve, waterfront, beach, or some native bush.
A whopping 85% of New Zealanders rate conservation as important to them personally, according to the engagement figures from the 2016 Survey of New Zealanders. Yet I don’t think all Kiwi families make
as much of this as we could. There are lots of good reasons for this. Sometimes the barriers are logistical– it can be hard to find a good spot, plan the trip there, and get everyone on board; and sometimes it’s financial – fun stuff can be costly. Little costs add up quick. Sometimes, it’s because we’re nervous! Parents can (understandably) be a bit riskaverse, which leads to missed adventures.
Reconnecting kids with nature
We really want young people to get out and have adventures in nature so they form meaningful connections with it. The state of our native species is already a bit precarious – we have about 3,000 in some trouble, 800 in serious trouble, and 50-plus bird species that have become extinct since human arrival 750 years ago. If kids don’t care about nature, then our individual conservation efforts will slide back with each generation. This is unacceptable – we need the opposite to happen. This year’s Conservation Week theme was “Love My Backyard”, and it was referring to your backyard in an epic sense – really, all of New Zealand is our backyard. Kiwi kids need to get out into this epic backyard and strengthen their ties with it. So get out into nature! Go! It’s good for us and good for our families. When we spend time in nature we feel better, we think better, and I generally think fresh air makes us better-better. Let’s be better-better together.