Something I’ve noticed while working for Sierra Club BC as an environmental educator is that just about everywhere I visit, people in the community have something in common: they’re all looking to find ways to interact and feel a sense of belonging in their own community and connect with nature.

Kids in particular need to create that sense of belonging in order to feel like they have the support to build relationships with the places they’re in. Relationships with other people as well as all the other living beings such as the plants and animals that live there, too. They’re seeking support and acceptance from their families and friends. And in a different way, they are needing support from elders and other adults in their community, who could be referred to as community aunties and uncles.

How do we raise kids in nature-focused community?

The importance of nature in a community is essential to create value for nature in a child’s life. If you live in a place where nature is valued by community members and thought of as essential for their well-being, are you more likely to ensure you’re collectively taking good care of it? Communities play an important role in how they model the value held in protecting nature for future generations who come to live in those places.

When I travel to small and large communities here in B.C., a common response parents give about why they moved there has to do with nature. They say they live in a certain place because of the close proximity they have with wild spaces, and they want that for their children.

This gives me hope that if people truly value what nature can provide to communities and children, then maybe we will have a chance to see more communities come together to develop something sustainable for our children and future generations. We have the capacity to build communities that are rich in nature play spaces, protection of local species, outdoor environmental education programs embedded into the education of our children.

Nature play time provides a place for being with friends, parents, elders, aunties and uncles from the community. It also provides a place for nature to be part of a child’s development. The benefits of spending time outside include decreased anxiety and depression, improved mood, increased flexibility and even improved vision.

This winter, I encourage you to go out for a nature scavenger hunt or play a nature-based game.

A great game I play with students is the webbing game. It teaches kids about the delicate balance and intricate dependency that all living things have with one another. The game becomes more challenging when there is something missing from part of the ecosystem. For example, if the salmon population is decreasing in a community because of overfishing, then the population of bears and trees and plants in the forest are drastically impacted. Playing this game challenges kids to ask the difficult question, how is my community part of protecting nature for my lifetime and the future generations to come? It also reminds us that we all have a role to play to keep the web within our community from falling apart.

On Sierra Club BC’s website, the “Parents” page features instructions on how to play the webbing game, resources for nature-based scavenger hunts and other interactive activities you can do outdoors with your kids or kids in your community. Visit sierra.club.bc.ca/parents.

Kirsten Dallimore is an Environmental Educator with Sierra Club B.C.