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Green time not screen time

Time in nature restores spirits after pandemic restrictions

Ever heard of “nature deficit disorder”? By the end of our sixth lockdown, I can bet you were feeling it, even without knowing the buzzword.

Nature deficit disorder is a phrase used to describe the impact of spending way too much time indoors, without time in the natural world.

It is thought that children are particularly vulnerable to nature deficit. Prolonged time indoors making them feel alienated from nature and perhaps more vulnerable to negative moods or reduced attention spans.

To help address this, Kensington Neighbourhood House has been running a program called “Green Time Not Screen Time” (GTNST) – specifically designed for children and families living in our public housing estates. Essentially, GTNST is a series of excursions aimed at getting kids and their parents connected with the natural environment.

Our first excursion was epic. It involved 152 participants, 2 buses, 5 maxi taxis and about a million sausages. The destination was Mount Aitkinson Community Centre – a large property about an hour out of Melbourne. For many, it was the largest open space they had ever seen and the kids wasted no time in getting a campfire started, climbing trees and heading out on guided nature walks.

The first group to start the nature walk were armed with binoculars and learning about animal tracks when they spotted a group of kangaroos. Before you could shout “Skippy!” every child took off in pursuit. Naturally, the kangaroos easily evaded their pursuers, and the kids soon learned that a) thistles hurt when you run through them, and b) if you follow your own tracks, you can find your way back to the group. Excellent lessons all round.

The thistles have really stayed with the kids. And the sticky mud. And the sense of adventure. At first, mothers were scared of the open space and losing their children. By the end they were really proud that they had faced their fear, challenged the unknown, and overcome it.

“The fire is like home,” said one mum. A young boy spent ages watching the hovering birds and talking about them with his dad. An older sister pushed her siblings around in a wheelbarrow while they shrieked with laughter. A group of younger children spent hours drawing under the trees, quietly observing the natural world around them.

It was a very special day.

We have plenty more excursions planned for the rest of the year, including a trip to the beach and one to the wilds of Warrandyte. We’ll also be adventuring closer to home with excursions to Newell’s Paddock and Royal Park.

Big thanks to the City of Melbourne for funding this project and to the awesome staff of The Venny for partnering with us to deliver it.

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