Connecting Children with Nature in Cities and Schools: An International Perspective


One of the unique resources that Green Schoolyards America is able to bring to our work is an extensive network of international colleagues that can provide different perspectives and expertise. The green schoolyards movement has been growing abroad for many years - as much as fifty or 100 in some places! Many of the techniques developed in each place are specific to its context and culture, but that does not mean we can't borrow and adapt!

Recently, at an event co-hosted by The Presidio Trust and Green Schoolyards America, the featured keynote speaker, Laís Fleury, Director of the Alana Institute in Rio de Janeiro and the Coordinator of the Children and Nature program in Brazil, shared how one organization is working to connect children with nature in Brazil.  The event was held in celebration of International School Grounds Month, with the collaboration of the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) and Evergreen. Laís, Cam Collyer, the Director of Programs at Evergreen, and Sharon Danks, Green Schoolyards America's CEO and Founder, are all members ISGA's Leadership Council - a special treat to have this international group of experts all together! 


With the beautiful view of the Presidio's new greenway and the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop, Ms. Fleury took us on a virtual journey to Brazilian schoolyards, parks, and neighborhoods. She shared Alana’s inspiring work to mobilize society around issues related to childhood and children’s experiences of the natural world, her insights into Brazil’s educational environments, and Alana’s approach to fostering child development by promoting children’s contact with nature in an urban context.

The Brazilian context may actually sound similar to that of some of our most urban, under-resourced schools and districts. 85% of the population in Brazil lives in cities, with little to no green space. Inequality is high and danger and violence are real threats in many of the areas in which they work, including from ever-increasing car traffic. Lastly, as a nation, they are second behind the US in consumption of Ritalin, sparking increasing concern about mental health. 

On the flip side, there are a number of unique cultural and political factors that are actually supportive of connecting children to nature. As Ms. Fleury told the audience in her talk, federal law in Brazil is generally supportive of children. Though Brazilians may not see themselves as outdoor recreationists, the outdoors is actually deeply embedded in their lifestyle and culture. 

Alana takes a holistic approach, understanding that connection to nature is one piece of the puzzle for improving quality of life in Brazil, as are increasing access to housing and reducing violence and inequality. They focus on evidence-based approaches, citing studies that show low cortisol levels in children in low-income areas, which can make it harder for those children to do well in school, as reason to promote play and the use of schoolyards to master skills and develop an appetite for challenge - a character trait that predicts success farther down the road. Alana also works to help Brazilians recognize that nature is all around them already!

One of the things that Alana does best is to tell these stories through visual media. They have a platform called VIDEOCAMP that gathers social impact films, making them available for free public screenings. The films about children and nature focus on positive stories and have created compelling campaigns capturing the magic of childhood nature connection and its availability, even to city dwellers.  

Check out the video below and thank you to Laís and Alana for sharing your work with us!

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