In the last 30 years our concepts of recreation, education and even the way we have fun outdoors has altered significantly. Some of those changes have been driven by our eager embracing of digital technology and the ready availability of information and entertainment in the palm of our hands. Other changes have been societal and economic factors, such as the hours we work, our concepts of risk and safety and even having the knowledge to find opportunities for outdoor recreation and play.
British film-maker and founder of The Wild Network David Bond recently presented a seminar to a range of Dunedin people involved in recreation, education and conservation. David has increasingly seen children who no longer have a direct connection to nature and who are fast losing the knowledge that previous generations had of the outdoors. Part of the reason for this has been the upsurge in the availability of television, the internet and the power of advertising creating sedentary children. With an increasing obesity epidemic in western countries including New Zealand our ability to be active and use natural spaces to play and roam in is now vital. It’s also esential that our children are able to explore nature so that we create a new generation of active conservation stewards, advocates and lovers of nature.
With David Bond the group looked at the barriers to kids connecting with nature and there were four main themes;
- Fear – for children’s safety, stranger danger, being risk adverse
- Time – parents being too busy to be able to supervise children’s outdoor play
- Space – the availability of natural areas
- Technology – the competing demands from screen-time which takes away from outdoors play.
As the seminar continued and the group looked at the Dunedin example it became clear that the same barriers to connecting children with nature were present here;
- People not knowing the value of spending time in nature
- Lack of parental time to facilitate children’s time in nature
- Lack of access to green spaces
- Parental fear
- Time-poor kids (too many competing demands such as homework, sport etc)
- A perception of ‘geeky nature’; nature-play not being cool
- Parental peer-pressure to not have ‘wild kids’
- Overzealous H&S requirements and a blame culture leading to time in nature being seen as too risky
- Lack of equipment, competency and knowledge
Dunedin is a great city, full of fantastic places to visit and play, but just how well do we promote their values and their use to the community? The Dunedin landscape has much to offer our community, but how well do we know our neighbourhood parks and reserves? By and large those places cost us nothing to use, and as David Bond suggests nature is actually free. So while there is a bounty on our doorstep, some in our community know very little about those areas and the experiences they offer. This was brought home to the Society recently when people on the 2015 Town Belt Traverse said they “didn’t know this was here!“
As an organisation the Dunedin Amenities Society have a role to play in encouraging people in the community to explore our open spaces and encourage our children to put the wild back into the wilderness.