The value of nature for children and young people

Did you rediscover your love of nature during lockdown? I know many of us did. From large nature reserves through to small pockets of wildness, dens and rope swings have popped up, new paths have been trodden and social media feeds are filled with photos of flowers and landscapes.

If you are one of the people that have started feeding the birds from your balcony, growing wild flowers in your garden, or taking your kids on local walks and bike rides, you’ll know the great feeling that comes from being more connected with the natural world. At times it feels like a whole generation are discovering (or maybe rediscovering) that natural places, however small, can bring peace, solace, freedom and entertainment.

At the same time, this pandemic has exposed and widened inequalities for young people. One of these is access to safe and engaging places to play, explore and learn. Children have been asked to make huge sacrifices in order to bring this pandemic under control, including less opportunity to play, particularly if they haven’t had gardens or safe local outdoor spaces. Play is considered so vital to child development that it is a fundamental right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The benefits of play, particularly outdoor play, are huge and widely recognised, cutting across physical and mental health, child development and wellbeing. As the International Play Association puts it “play is both a way for children to keep healthy, and a process that helps them to deal with everyday uncertainties, stresses and anxieties”.

Avon Wildlife Trust’s Youth Forum have been fantastic during lockdown. The team of young artists, educators and activists used their videos, photos and artwork to share stories of nature, wildlife and wellbeing with 3,000 followers on Instagram.  We are so grateful and impressed with their talent and commitment. It's so important that teenagers and young people do not get the message that they aren't welcome outdoors, at a time when it is most critical for them. Research shows spending time outside in nature can help improve young people’s fitness, reduce stress and improve concentration and creativity. At a time when many of us are struggling with a huge amount of change, uncertainty, restrictions on our freedom and at the worse, bereavement, I see nature as a great source of comfort and solace.

Rain is not sadness.
It’s falling does not send me to sorrow.
Instead I welcome the washing away
Wrought by the fresh forest shower
Zakiya McKenzie, Bristol poet and writer

Extract from ‘Writer in the Forest’ 
Read more of Zakiya's work here

As we emerge from lockdown, as well as adapting our workshops and events to keep everyone safe, we are taking a fresh look at how we work with others to connect children, families & young people with nature and inspire and enable them to take action to support nature’s recovery. Some highlights:

  • We are supporting local primary and secondary schools who want to do more outdoor play and learning, improve their school grounds for wildlife, or campaign to support nature’s recovery. If you know a school who might be interested, please get in touch!
  • We will be relaunching our My Wild Child toddler sessions remotely soon thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Keep an eye on social media or our website for more details
  • We have restarted school day trips to our Folly Farm education centre in the Chew Valley, with new Covid-safe procedures in place

It is my great hope that we emerge from this lockdown with stronger communities, a greater appreciation of the value of our local nature, and the will to fight to protect it. We need to love, care for and protect our local wildlife sites, school grounds, parks and small corners of wildness. They are vital habitats for the entire animal kingdom, and that includes humans!

To find out more about learning opportunities with Avon Wildlife Trust visit our website: avonwildlifetrust.org.uk/learning, or you can also get in touch with our learning team learning@avonwildlifetrust.org.uk