Madison Joins Effort to Connect Urban Children to Nature

Madison Joins Effort to Connect Urban Children to Nature
Urban space isn't the best place to connect with nature, but an initiative announced Wednesday by a national group intends to help youngsters, including those in Madison, learn more about nature in the city.

The initiative, Cities Connecting Children to Nature, is a joint venture of the National League of Cities and the Children & Nature Network, striving to get children who live in cities in touch with the outdoors.

Madison is one of seven cities selected for the initiative. The others are: Austin, Texas; San Francisco, California; St. Paul, Minnesota; Louisville, Kentucky; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Providence, Rhode Island.

"Madison has a wealth of urban nature," said Mayor Paul Soglin. "But not all kids get a chance to enjoy it. This initiative will move us in the right direction."

Local organizations working together on the initiative include Public Health Madison and Dane County, Madison Parks and many other groups that work with children.

A planning grant will be used to work on increasing access to nature by organizations serving youth and families of color, to ensure all youth have access to time in nature.

A March 5 kickoff event at Warner Park Community Center will give youth and community leaders a chance to review Madison's natural assets, and the challenges of giving all children the time to connect with nature.
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  1. Thank you for sharing such an important initiative supporting children in urban settings.

    My concern is about the photo in this article of bare human hands holding a salamander. All too often I come across pictures of humans handling salamanders (and other amphibious creatures) when promoting children’s connection to nature. Usually in blogs, nature resource guides, and other forms of media around nature education.

    These images falsely imply that it is okay to hold a salamander with bare hands. The natural oils in human skin are toxic to salamanders (along with lotions, repellents, etc.) If salamanders, frogs, and worms *breathe* through their skin, then what is this experience like for the salamander? When we use photos like this, we are not supporting “connection to nature” when these moments of handling the salamander can be so traumatic for them.

    I am an early childhood educator with a masters in environmental studies and my work is around supporting children’s relationships with nature. I don’t subscribe to a “hands-off” approach, but I do encourage thinking about what the salamander (frog, worm, snail, etc) needs to have in order to feel more comfortable if we want to hold them. There needs to be some thinking around the well-being of the salamander, just as we consider the well-being of a child’s curiosity about salamanders.

    Sometimes we suggest scooping up the soil and leaves with the creature to hold it, or rubbing our hand in soil or mud, as a way to make our hands closer to the land the creature knows.

    My hope is that we can move towards more ethical considerations and representations of “nature”, in the movement to support children’s relationship with their environments.

    Sinead Rafferty, RECE, MES
    University of Toronto Early Learning Centre
    Preschool Program,
    Toronto, Canada

  2. Sinead: Thanks for your observation. Agreed.

    Unfortunately, we don’t control the editorial choices of our local media outlets. We did not issue the press release with a photo. Initially, their online headline read, “Tree Huggers Rejoice!” We asked that they change the headline, and they responded with the lead sentence of, “Urban space isn’t the best place to connect with nature,” and, of course, a picture of this ill-fated salamander.

    Here is a better article:

    Perhaps in the future we’ll issue a gallery of local stock photos that media outlets can use along with our materials. Clearly we have a lot of work to do locally.

    Mary Michaud, Madison


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