I recently realized I totally failed to write a blog post about how I spent the week of July 20-25, and I should: I was one of around fifty people from around the country who attended the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Legacy Camp at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. This is a leadership conference and training program for young people (“millennials,” ages 18-29) who are interested in connecting children and nature.
I’ve written before about Richard Louv and his book Last Child in the Woods. The Children & Nature Network is the national non-profit organization he started to continue advancing the mission of that book, and the Natural Leaders program had been on my radar for a couple years now as something I’d like to be a part of. This summer, while between jobs and searching for ways to stay involved with this cause that I’m passionate about, the time was finally right, so I packed up and traveled to the other end of the country for a week to see what the camp had to offer.
I am introvert, and networking with strangers does not come terribly naturally to me. I knew I wasn’t going to “make life-long friends” during a single week at a conference center, despite what all the sunny blurbs describing past years of the program might say. Still, I went into it with an open mind, and it was definitely worthwhile. As I flip back through the notes I took while I was there, here are some of the highlights:
- To get people interested in your cause, tell your personal story. The Children & Nature Network website has a whole section on peer-reviewed research about the benefits of spending time in nature. However, humans are emotional creatures; you aren’t going to win hearts and minds with statistics alone. There was an entire session on effectively telling a story about why you, personally, think spending time in nature is important.
- There are many valid ways of defining and experiencing nature. A small win is still a win. Not everyone has the means to go for a week-long backpacking trip in the wilderness. Not everyone wants to. Flying a kite in a city park or planting cherry tomatoes in a container on your balcony should also be celebrated! Related to this, we talked about the fact that, when working with kids, allowing time for unstructured play in natural surroundings is just as important as teaching specific lessons about natural history.
- You don’t have to have a job or career related to children and nature (or be a parent) to be involved. I’ve avoided writing anything specific here in the last couple months about what’s going on in my life and career (maybe soon), but at this moment, I am no longer employed in the environmental education field. As it turns out, I was far from the only person in the program without a job in environmental education or something related. Regardless, everyone participating in the camp made a commitment to lead four events in the next year related to connecting children in their community with nature, and started generating ideas for what exactly they might do.
The camp was a great opportunity to reconnect and remember why I do what I do, and I’m hoping to stay involved with the Children & Nature Network in the future. Stay tuned for more as I develop my community events here in Walla Walla, and if you have any questions for me about the organization as a whole or the Natural Leaders program, please share in the comments!