We were lucky enough to have Betsy Townsend from The Leave No Child Inside Greater Cincinnati collaborative who has been working with the Children and Nature Network and also attended their National Gathering in Colorado.
Here is her report:
NATIONAL GATHERING HIGHLIGHTS
The theme this year was Making Connections. It was about connecting to research, youth, the third ring, the built environment, policy makers, community, parents, social networks, the media, early childhood, the medical profession and each other. About 125 grassroots leaders attended. It was exciting to see the make-up of the audience expanding from primarily nature organizations to physicians (including a child psychiatrist) and developers.
Lt. Governor Barbara O’Brien of Colorado gave a keynote address that was every bit as passionate as Rich Louv’s presentation about the importance of connecting children with nature. I encourage everyone to view it when it shows up on the C&NN site. She’s an incredible advocate ‘“ we need one here!!!!
Rich Louv reported that national parks attendance is starting to go back up. Although the press attributes that to the recession, Rich believes that we are moving the needle. All major environmental groups have the LNCI message as one of their top priorities; he was just asked to keynote the American Academy of Pediatrics convention (5,000 pediatricians) in 2010; Obama has the book on his desk and when he was given the book, said I’ve heard about that book; and the grassroots movement continues to grow.
The Children & Nature Network is actively working on making alliances with national organizations in the various sectors, focusing initially on early childhood and health. John Thielbahr is taking early childhood and I am taking health. The idea is to prioritize which organizations we can partner with to complete research (fill in the gaps), collaborate on tools and resources and otherwise support each other in areas of common interest.
The report from Natural Leaders was inspiring ‘“ the world leader is extremely appropriate! They have many wonderful ideas for engaging youth, and they are not just talkers ‘“ they are very action oriented. One of them has already inspired a therapy garden at her local hospital. I also encourage everyone to see Juan Martinez’ address at the closing plenary session. It will bring tears to your eyes.
There was much discussion about natural play spaces, with both Louise Chawla and Robin Moore making presentations about how important unstructured play is and some examples of natural play spaces being developed in urban areas.
There was plenty of sharing about what is happening in the grassroots regions. I was especially interested in hearing about the state-wide ones, including North Carolina, New Hampshire, Michigan, New Jersey and Florida. All data from the gathering will be posted on-line, so you’ll be able to look at some of that. We should all study it in thinking about Ohio. All are actively seeking participation from the other sectors, as we’ve discussed. I’d say all are in the initial stages.
Much interest in social networking ‘“ I could not attend that workshop because I had to facilitate others, but we’ll be able to see the info on-line. You have seen the info on Ning. I think most of the group there still wants to understand better how to use this ‘“ most of us are too old to be savvy about social networking!
The report on what is happening as a result of the Kellogg Grant and the communities in Michigan that went through the Community Action Guide process was inspiring. In Holland, Michigan, the Holland Pediatricians office is actually prescribing nature play and their office is filled with posters and information about the LNCI message. They are conducting some research with a control group and an experimental group to measure data.
Brand new initiative: Natural Teachers! Rich has been interested in developing this idea for a while. John Thielbahr stepped up to get it underway and a group of over thirty people attended an impromptu session. A steering committee has been formed and work is underway to outline next steps. It will be a way for teachers who are interested in the movement can connect with each other, support each other, and identify what tools and resources are needed to move it forward.
All in all, it was an extremely inspiring conference. It’s amazing to see what has happened in three years. The analogy I made is that the first year we were all novices, the second year we were interns and this year we were professionals! There are great things on the horizon and we have most definitely made a huge amount of progress.