Running Wild: Engaging and empowering future custodians of place through creative nature-based play
Creative nature-based play embedded in the participatory arts fosters children’s connection to nature and promotes their ability to act as agents of change in their local environment
This case study focuses on a practice-led research project, referred to as “Running Wild.” Planners of the project recognized “the urgent need for new approaches to environmental learning that celebrate children’s agency, supporting them to directly contribute to ecological systems and global sustainability across communities.” The research arm of this project explored the potential of creative nature-based play in fostering children’s identity and understanding of the natural world.
Several community groups were involved in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of Running Wild. These groups included a community theatre group, a primary school and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Australia. Individuals working with the project included local artists, scientists and Indigenous elders. The aim of the project was to introduce students to a nature reserve (“The Pines”) near their school through art-making activities. A group of 36 students participated in the Running Wild program over a period of 12 days across five weeks. During this time, they were introduced to both Western and Indigenous perspectives of ecology within the reserve, participated in tree planting activities, constructed a village of ‘bush cubbies’, made spirit animal costumes, conducted information tours of The Pines, made a short film, and created an outdoor exhibition and performance for their families. Most of the students lived in neighborhoods with high levels of socio-economic disadvantage and spent most of the time outside of school playing video games or watching television rather than playing outside. At the beginning of the project, the students showed a strong resistance to being outside in nature and remarkably low fitness levels.
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