ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marghanita Hughes is a children’s author and illustrator and creator of the award-winning children’s brand, The Little Humbugs. She is a naturalist and founder of the “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution – a Canadian non-profit organization with a mission to change the way children spend their time. Throughout the year, Marghanita runs nature classes for children and “hands on” workshops for educators wanting to learn how they can connect children with the natural world. She strongly believes that all children should be given the opportunity to discover and explore the natural world.
All children deserve the right to have the opportunity to experience the magic that the natural world provides. I am fortunate to be able to witness this magic every day in my nature classes and during the school visits I make. Because of that magic, my life has been transformed.
A few years ago, I launched nature classes for 3 – 8 year olds. During the classes, we provide a natural space where children can run, play, dance, sing, squeal, shout or be silent in this forest space. They stand, kneel or crouch to paint or create the creatures, birds, trees, flowers and grasses, which are all around us. The children develop a beautiful relationship with Mother Earth. They get to feel who they are, happy and free. Over the past three years, I have expanded the classes, offering them after school.
How did I come to this mission? Throughout life, people come into our lives that help us on our way to finding our purpose in life. Or it may be a book that we read at a particular time in our lives that inspires change in us. One such book for me was Last Child In the Woods by Richard Louv. The very title haunted me. The book had such a profound impact on me that it inspired me to create my nature classes.
Now I believe there is a need to provide a way for people of all ages to benefit from nature in their lives. In Richard’s latest book The Nature Principle, he provides affirmation that adults are suffering from nature-deficit disorder, too, and are in need of reconnecting with nature just as much as children. He quotes Thomas Berry: “We have turned away from nature. The great work of the twenty-first century will be to reconnect to the natural worlds as a source of meaning.” This is absolutely true.
The Nature Principle led me to add another element to my nature classes: adults. What I try to get across in my presentations to adults and children is that you do not need to be a biologist to teach children about the birds and trees in their backyard or park, or the need to be a life-long gardener in order to grow a small vegetable plot in the school grounds. The simple nature-based activities we teach in my workshops and classes are fun and easy, stimulating the child’s (and adult’s) body, mind and spirit.
During my presentation/workshop in Vancouver for the Early Learning Years Conference 2011, I was overwhelmed by the educators’ enthusiasm and their dedication to changing the way children spend time in their care. Witnessing their sense of awe and imagination was both heart-warming and exciting. It was easy to forget I was teaching adults.
Typically, I start the sessions by getting participants to close their eyes and to take a moment to think back to their own childhood. I ask them to think of their favorite outdoor activity as a child. The room instantly fills up with smiles and I ask who would like to share their fondest memories. Hands shoot up all over the room, eager to reminisce about their childhood outdoors. Having a room full of happy, enthusiastic teachers, excited to take their new knowledge of how to actively engage children and adults with nature, fills me with an abundance of joy and hope for the future. If a teacher is enthusiastic, he or she will get the children excited too.
Since registering as a participant in the Children and Nature Network some time ago, I have watched it grow and blossom into an amazing pulse of creative energy, a network of individuals, organizations and nature groups, sharing and connecting their ideas, dreams, solutions, and challenges: fueling the very movement Richard hoped would happen.
In Canada, I’ve been inspired to start what I call The Let’s Go Outside Revolution, a non-profit organization, providing help at the grassroots level — starting locally, growing organically. The response to has been amazing.
Here is just one example: An elementary school teacher from Vancouver got involved in our Revolution. At the time, she was the only teacher in her school to take classes out into a little forested area behind the school. In December she reported that every single teacher in her school was now taking their classes outdoors.
Yes, there is a long way to go, but a “New Nature Movement,” as Richard Louv calls it, is growing stronger and more powerful every day. We all have a purpose in life. I believe my purpose is to help return our children to Mother Earth and to help re-awaken the awe and wonder in adults who have forgotten or lost their inner child.
I am the revolution. You are, too.