Hey Natureweavers Tribe,
Most of you know me – my name is Carly Garner and I am the founder and lead mentor at Natureweavers, one of Australia’s first forest schools. I am a professional nature pedagogue, and have been playing and learning in, with and from nature with children since 2010. I’ve also been a parent since 2005. I’m writing to you today more as a parent, and less as a professional. It’s about the teenagers. My teenagers. Your teenagers. Our teenagers. And their relationship with nature. I’m thinking out loud here, but stick with me….
Nature is our Life
We moved from Victoria to the Sunshine Coast when our children were 3 and 4 years old, called by the natural beauty that could be accessed all year round #becausesubtropics. We explored our new home on foot, on bike, in prams, and by boat. We went to the beach after school with a punnet of strawberries and a towel, had lo-fi birthday parties by Lake Weyba, and climbed Mt Cooroora when the children needed reminding of their power. We took roadtrips, first close to home, and then further and further into and around our new state. We camped, we festival-ed, we paddled, we swam, we hiked, we picnicked. We bundled our children into Ergo’s, Phil and Ted’s, a double bike trailer, Tom the big blue van, and various watercraft of the paddling variety. We bought them Keen sandals, Camelbaks and their first pocket knife. We took them north to the tropics, west to the desert, east to the seaside and south to the massive mountain ash. Cam and I made the decisions about where to go, how to get there and how long we would stay. The recurring theme was always nature – and the exploration of, connection to and immersion in. Nature is a massive part of our lives and is the place where we spend most time together as a family.
This summer our children will be 13 and 14 years old. This summer they are teenagers. I raised the ‘Where shall we go camping these holidays?’ question a few days ago to my now-teens, and they meh-ed and urgh-ed and ‘Do we have to?’-ed and ‘Can I bring a friend?’-ed in response.
And I kinda knew it was coming. I’ve noticed a distinct change in the way my children have been engaging with nature as they move into adolescence, and a shift in my ability to influence that engagement. I can still get them to walk the dogs along the river with me but the deal needs to be sweetened with fish and chips afterwards; she will come Stand Up Paddle Boarding with me and then we have protein smoothies afterwards; they will go for a ride to the beach, but only if Poppy (their grandfather) comes too; he will take an overnight hike with me but only if we pack chocolate blueberries (I’m sensing a theme here….). The point is, our ‘nature play’ is definitely more on their terms these days as they exercise their right to make choices, have opinions and to say no/how/when/howlongfor. I celebrate this increasing autonomy and the development of considered, opinionated, strong adolescents, and I know their relationship with me (and with Cam) is, and needs to, change and grow as they do, but what of this changing connection to nature? We have always – and continue to – parent our children into nature and I want to continue to do so. So what does that look like as they grow older? Professionally, I designed a whole program on that, but what about the day to day/less structured/Saturday afternoon flavor of family nature time with teenagers?
Adolescents in Nature
As children become adolescents, there is a change from the outdoor world to the indoor. There is a transition from the lovely, inner-world loneliness of early childhood to the externally-focussed, social world of peers. There is a separation from parents that is inevitable and appropriate. Their social world grows and becomes more important than spending sunset by the sea with mum, or climbing the poinciana with dad. They spend more time inside, because that’s where their crew is, either in-person or on-tech. But these natural, human developmental processes don’t negate the need for a relationship with nature. I wonder if they even inflate it?
As a parent, I am clear about maintaining my children’s connection to the natural world – but this does, and should, look and feel different to when they were young children. Where once my boy would light up when facing with a gentle, crashing wave rolling in on a protected ocean inlet, now his face glows with the challenge of a 15m monkey rope climb to the double black high ropes course, with his bestie immediately following him. Where once my girl would spend hours making and naming wild foraged potions in glass vials, she now brews up banana and avocado hair treatments to nourish her 5-sessions-a-week-in-the-pool-competitive-swimmer dry hair, and lathers it on with her mates during sleepovers. Their engagement with nature has shifted, and their need for risk, relevance, autonomy – and for their mates to join them – has increased.
‘Nature play’ programs and offerings are directed mostly at young children – they often have an upper age limit of 12. Indeed, most participants in Natureweavers programs are between 3 and 11 years old. Search for ‘nature play ideas’ on the webs? You will be inundated with providers, programs, and places. Search again for ‘nature play for teenagers’? Crickets.
So, what’s going on there?
Are these programs not meeting the needs of teenagers?
Are they not engaging and interesting to teenagers?
Are they just way uncool? Uninspiring? Boring?
Do we as a community place less importance on nature-based/outdoor activity for our teenagers than our younger children?
Are our teenagers busy doing other things (more school work, more organised sport/activities) to enjoy nature for nature’s sake?
Do they just not want to hang out in nature anymore? Especially with their parents?
And what does ‘nature play’, to use the parlance of the day, look like for teenagers?
Where do they want to go?
What do they want to do there?
What are the hooks that entice a teenager outside?
I’ve been chatting with my teens, and their pals, and they are going to share some of their favorite local nature-based/outdoor places to go, projects to try and activities to do over the next few weeks – perfect timing with summer holidays merely weeks away! Photography, surfing, hiking, go-carting. Swimming, riding, creating, gardening. Writing, building, climbing, helping. Because ‘nature play’ can and should also be for teenagers – and we are going to show you where and how and what to do, from the head, heart and hands of teenagers themselves.
We’ll be posting via email, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, and blogging on our website. Subscribe to our mailing list if you want to make sure you don’t miss the posts – they will be constant over the summer, but irregular #becauseteenagers.
If your teen would like to chat to us about their favorite natural place/space and/or activity/project, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or text me on 0403 133 679.
I would also love to connect with parents who also want to establish and/or maintain a relationship between their teen and nature for the wellbeing of both, mostly so we can support one another when your teen says ‘No, mum. Not today. Maybe tomorrow.’ when you ask them to go for a quick hike for the 14th day in a row……Email me at email@example.com with your interest, and please like Natureweavers on Facebook as I will start a specific group there for us all to connect.
Thanks for sticking with me. This is totally stream of consciousness writing for me, so I’m hoping it resonates for some of you! Here’s to a natural teenage-hood!