Our My Wild Child programme works with 2-4 year-olds and their parents and carers to facilitate nature connection in community green spaces around the city, through wild play, story, song, craft and exploration. This is play at its most genuine. Where sticks become magic wands, tree stumps become spaceships and a world of imagination opens up which in turn nurtures problem-solving skills, cognitive development and self-esteem. There is space to run and climb, streams to splash in, and an intricate world of bugs, plants and birds to befriend. Every child has a right to play in nature, and at Avon Wildlife Trust we believe it is vital to enable and protect this.
Children learn through play, and the natural world offers abundant opportunity. A young child immersed in the sensory richness and dynamic qualities of a meadow, woodland, beach, park, or allotment, begins to develop identification, differentiation, analysis and evaluation. They distinguish big trees from little trees, flowers from ferns, worms from slugs, ducks from songbirds, real creatures from imaginary ones. They learn to count insects and flowers; they gain material knowledge from playing in grass and mud; they begin to understand physics from how stream water responds to heavy rain or large rocks. They learn how to adapt, cope and problem-solve in response to the unpredictable natural world. And they develop empathy as they meet oak trees and squirrels along the way.
Our Wildlife Watch programme continues to nurture this connection to the natural world, through seasonal sessions in which 5-10 year-olds have the opportunity to explore and get hands-on with activities that inspire joy, wonder and a thirst to learn more. As children grow older, the skills and knowledge they learn from the natural world go deeper. The children who come to our Wildlife Watch sessions begin to show behaviour in kinship with nature - mud and slugs cease to be ‘yucky’ or ‘gross’ and instead become known characters in the child’s life story. Children recognise plants by their names and begin to learn their qualities and uses. They learn about what a variety of creatures need in their habitats, and they begin to want to look after them.
The Wildlife Trusts recently published a new report - Nature Nurtures Children, which looked at the impact of time spent in nature, on 451 children. The research confirmed that spending time in nature increased children’s physical and mental wellbeing in profound and diverse ways. After time in nature, 79% of children who took part felt more confident in themselves, 84% felt they were more capable of trying new things, and 81% felt that their relationships with their teachers were better.
But perhaps as important as any benefit to child development or learning, it has been proven that children who are exposed to nature from a young age develop a passion for it, a love for trees, rivers, bees and mud that runs deep. The report revealed that time in nature increased pro-environmental behaviours. 90% of those who took part said that they now felt that ‘people should protect plants and animals’. And the increase in pro-environmental values was highest for children who had the lowest initial levels.
It’s clear that contact with nature from a young age gives children the best chance of growing into healthy, happy adults who care about their environment, who take responsibility for caring for and protecting it for generations to come. And as they grow up faced with the twin crises of climate and ecological collapse, this is more vital than ever.
Every child has the right to play outside, and My Wild Child and Wildlife Watch are about laying the groundwork, facilitating nature connection in a way that we hope will grow and flourish into nature connected communities. Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Avon Wildlife Trust run these projects for children and families in Bristol. Find out more here.