I wrote an article for the magazine “Legepladsen” about a conference I attended in September in Copenhagen and Malmø on connecting children with nature. The magazine is published by the Danish Playground Society (Dansk Legeplads Selskab), a non-profit organization supporting play and play culture conditions.
Here is the danish version as will be seen in the magazine:
As a landscape architect interested in working on projects for children and having recently moved to Denmark, the Nordic Adventure conference based in Copenhagen sounded like the perfect place to meet like-minded people who also felt passionately about connecting children with nature.
After registering and meeting some of the other participants, there was plenty of time to wander around and enjoy the newly transformed Rådhus plads, a nature and adventure playground created by various organisations from around Denmark. It was delightful to see the broad age range of people playing, and many of us remarked on a group of pensioners who took over a display of traditional wooden games that they obviously remembered from their youth.
Day two started in Christiansborg Palace, with a morning comprised of sitting in the Fællessalen and listening to inspiring speeches by many passionate people. It was also encouraging to see a strong political presence, as both the danish minister for the environment and the danish minister for children and education gave speeches. Ida Auken spoke of how important it was for children to develop a good sense of nature through education as they will be responsible for the future of the planet.
We were then given lunch packs and sent off on our various afternoon field trips. In Bispebjerg was a school garden that consisted of a community centre on 3 acres of land . On arrival we saw people in the kitchen cutting up beans and preparing vegetables to sell. We met a beekeeper on our tour and were struck by the size of the place. School children typically spent 3 hours each week planning their 1m by 3m plot. They can plant whatever they like, flowers and/or vegetables and then sow the seeds, harvest them and prepare the plot for winter.
The next morning the tour bus headed over the bridge towards Torup, a forest on the outskirts of Malmø where the staff from The School of Nature would be our guides and treat us like the children they take care of for the day. We started with a walk in the forest and were given exercises to help us really see the nature around us and then we headed over to the forest garden area where a fire pit was ready for us to use to prepare our own lunch. We successfully made flat bread, vegetable stir fry and caramelised apples, all over an open fire. Whether it was the long walk, the early start or just being outdoors, but the food tasted especially delicious.
Skabersjøskolan, a forest school for kids from ages 2.5 to 12 was our next stop. One example of the schools philosophy was the obvious freedom the children had in creating their own play areas, dotted around the edge of the property were examples of this in the form of little dens.
Our final project to visit was Videdalsskolan, a transformed schoolyard that was part of the greening school grounds project we had heard about the previous day. We arrived just after school had finished, so were unable to see the children interacting with the space, but the potential for encouraging movement and free play was obvious. Rolling hills, trees and meadows clearly would inspire all age groups to play.
Just when we thought we were headed home, our tour guide decided we had time to visit Drømmarnas Hus, an old mansion in a disadvantaged area of Malmø, with a forest garden and outdoor kitchen. They are a non-profit artist led organisation and work with children and adults to encourage the growing, harvesting and preparing of vegetables. Home time and a head full of inspiration.
Our final day of the conference started with a morning of talks. Wanås Konst, a sculpture park just north of Malmø, stood out as a fantastic way of connecting children with nature through sculpture in a playful and creative way.
The plenary session was a great opportunity to bounce ideas around on how to best more forward in these troubled times. Our group agreed that to move forward it would take involvement on many levels, from the grassroots movement, through to the research studies that help prove the need for change and finally to connections in higher places, people such as Ida Auken, who are in a position to make the changes.
One final thought came from talking to a kindergarten teacher from the Faroe Islands, who told of how if she needs anything or wants to make changes she just calls the mayor and asks. If only it were that simple in other communities. Closer connectivity. Maybe that’s the way forward for us all?