“We need you.” That was the subject line of Richard Louv’s e-mail that arrived in my inbox in April of 2016. He was calling for children and nature leaders from around the world to come together later that spring in Vancouver, B.C. for the 2017 Children & Nature Network International Conference.
Louv, the co-founder of the Children & Nature Network and often referred to as the “father of the children and nature movement” was asking for my help to help expand the movement, taking it to another level. I was in. But the real challenge would be convincing the municipality I worked for in Dordrecht, the Netherlands that I should take such a long trip abroad.
In my heart, I knew the conference was where I belonged. Children and nature have always been a main thread in my life. As a child myself, my parents took me into nature often. My strongest childhood memories are of walking through the forest, biking through the country to visit my aunt and uncle on their farm, and night walks through the dunes during summer holidays.Later, as an undergraduate studying Biology, I came across a short article about Dr. Jana Verboom’s research on the disconnection of children and nature. The topic was of such interest to me that I applied (and was accepted) for an internship at the Alterra Research Institute with Jana. My time at Alterra, during which I researched green school grounds, sparked my interest in a job in nature education. As a goodbye gift, Jana presented me with the book “Last Child in the Woods” — and this was my first introduction to Richard Louv.
After graduation, I started a volunteer job at the NGO, Het Bewaarde Land (The Conserved Land), a nature experience program for primary school children ages eight to ten. It was amazing to experience nature together with the children.
The experience convinced me that even three school days in nature was not enough.
Soon after, I was fortunate to find my first paid job in nature education at IVN (Institute for Nature Education and Sustainability), a non-profit organization. A traineeship for the national government followed. This time in a different sector: the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management. But nature education kept calling me back and I was fortunate to spend my secondment at the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality with Roel van Raaij, the main civil servant on nature education. Roel gave me the Dutch translation of “Last Child in the Woods”— to which Jana Verboom also contributed— and brought to my attention the digital newsletter of C&NN to which I subscribed. Richard Louv & the C&NN, which he co-founded in the meantime, were back in my life.
Two more jobs followed, first at the National Program Office of Nature Education and presently as program advisor Sustainability Education at Sustainability Centre Weizigt, part of the Municipality of Dordrecht.
And then in 2016 appeared the magical e-mail from Richard Louv.
After six years of working in water education, I knew I needed to get to the conference in Vancouver to refuel my passion for children and nature that was sparked thirteen years earlier.
Fortunately, our Mayor and City Council Members were convinced about the importance of this issue and conference— and off to Vancouver I went! C&NN’s 2017 International Conference brought almost 900 colleagues together in Vancouver from all over the world. Being among these leaders from around the world, hearing about their work, their ideas and their passion was inspiring.
As Richard Louv articulated in his keynote, it felt like we were all part of a big family.
Just as I hoped it would, the conference relit my internal children and nature fire. Connecting children to nature is needed more than ever in light of the sustainability (and other) challenges we are faced with. “Follow your heart,” advised one of the wisdom keepers in the impressive movie “Down to Earth.” Since Vancouver, my heart tells me to help connect all children to nature and help to grow the Children and Nature Network in the Netherlands and abroad.
I hope that together we can spread the Children & Nature vibe all over the world. It is heartwarming to hear from people back home that the inspiration I took home from Vancouver inspires them as well. We are all little Children & Nature seeds. And as one of the young leaders said during the conference: “a seed in the dark will come out!”
Special thanks to School in Bos (‘School in Forest’), a nature camp location of the municipality of The Hague, which I visited recently inspired by the C&NN Conference. In this inspiring Dutch children and nature environment I was able to write this blog. It would be great if all children could experience such a special nature camp.
Photo Credits: Annemarie Lammers & C&NN