Children and Nature Network International Conference
Last week Urban Roots joined over 500 leaders from all across the world for the Children and Nature Network international conference in downtown St. Paul. Participants came together to build the children and nature movement established over 10 years ago with the publication of Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods”. Three central themes threaded through the conference; the relationship between time spent outside and improvements in physical and mental health, a how-to for cities that want to create a local network to support children and families getting outside, and exploring how all people, regardless of race, class, gender, or background, have the opportunity to engage and play in nature. The conference kicked off with a service project organized by the Natural Leaders Network to help remove garlic mustard at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Conservation Program Manager David Rittenhouse, along with two youth interns, helped lead a group of volunteers on the project. The youth were especially excited to be the ‘experts’ on a topic with such an engaged and interested adult audience. Field trips to local sites were offered the following day, including Sun Ray Natural Library where Urban Roots has served as a partner engaging youth with their local green spaces. The day ended with a speech by keynote speaker Dr Gail Christopher from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, who gave a passionate speech on how equitable access to nature is fundamental to healing the wounds of racism, reducing the achievement gap and improving health and wellness. The conference continued the next day with breakout sessions including “Creating Nature Rich Communities”, “Exploring Nature’s Role in Health and Wellness”, “Engaging Diverse Nature-Smart Youth Leaders”, and “Breaking down Barriers to Connecting Families with Nature”. Richard Louv closed out the conference with an impassioned call to all attendees to carry the energy and excitement from the conference forward into their communities. So let’s all get outside!