It’s rare when you can gather with like minded individuals and find that you really are! So often we delude ourselves into thinking that the way we think about a subject we are passionate about is how others think – only to find the devil in the details.
Children "kneed" nature
Open Space Technology
The “Grassroots Gathering” hosted in late August by the Children & Nature Network avoided this paradox entirely utilizing the “Open Space Technology” conference method. None of the all-too-expected myriad of flip chart sheets pasted on walls with goals objectives and strategies. Instead OST’s rules were simple: Whoever comes is the right group; whatever happens is what should; ideas that are most important get discussed; you can get up and change groups whenever you want to. In this nurturing environment, the need to connect children with nature remained primary. By capturing the collective intelligence, creativity ruled.
Why be creative?
Because, more than anything, our creativity is being limited by our and our children’s lack of regular experience with nature, that is in a downward spiral of experience extinction. Consider just two of these great ideas/gatherings I attended (the menu was large). A group of us gathered around “Creating Nature Clubs for Families” and quickly broke into “starting clubs” and “spreading clubs” as a grass roots movement. I recalled my own kids starting a “Kids Can Do Anything” club focused on getting more eco-friendly development around our neighborhood. Clubs! What a no-brainer. Even better, this movement’s earliest pioneers are fellow Virginians Chip and Ashley Donahue. Families organize themselves (State Park Staff could be an excellent catalyst) and, using social media, get together for outings and outdoors play. Not education, though it could be; not structured, but is loosely is - just fun. Children & Nature Network has created a fantastic “tool kit” to get started.
Another group rallied around “Calling All Grandparents”
This is again, another no-brainer. Who in our culture today has the greatest probability of a past connected with nature? Who potentially has the most time on their hands? The Grandparents do. The challenge clear: “when was the last time you managed to take a bit of your time to watch your grandchild catch a fish, find a bug, or a special rock? When was it that you helped them plant a garden, a flower, a tree, maybe even build a fort? If it’s been more than a month or so, you might consider laying some plans! The benefits are beyond calculation – for both you and the young ones!” Again, resources are available here.
As we work through a weak economy, those of us working and volunteering for one of the most frugally funded State Park Systems in the nation could take a lesson from open space thinking (double entendre). Go outside and talk to people who are out there, find out what they are doing and do that programmatically creating those opportunities for natural experiences. One visitor Center simply provides a pile of sapling staves and some burlap with a sign: “Go Build a Fort”. What a great idea!
To learn more, please check out this article: "ALL CHILDREN NEED NATURE: Inspiration from the 2012 C&NN Grassroots Gathering"
We hope to see you outside at your favorite Virginia State Park soon!