© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Growing children through nature

Jen Black
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Larnie and Harry playing a leaf memory game  Jen Black

The Christchurch Botanical Gardens are offering children activities different to the playground.

If you step inside the kiosk at the gardens, a member of the Canterbury Horticultural Society will greet you.

At 10am on Mondays, under 5's fill the room with laughter and joy at the drop-in group ‘Bot Tots’.

The activities for little ones change each week and are based on what season they’re in. Currently it’s autumn, which means the crafts and interactions are leaf-based and full of colour. They also look not only at plants but animals and insects too.

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Leaf Hedgehog Jen Black

Bot Tots started in November last year and was a project to get more people involved with the Horticultural Society. Members are often of older age and the organisation wanted to see a broader age range getting involved with nature. Program coordinator Rachel Oliver believes the society should be "for all ages from birth to death".

Around 20 kids come to the sessions with most parents excited for something different to do on a wet day. Although nature is outside, the group is run mainly inside the kiosk bringing nature to the tots. One mother said it was another option for those rainy days instead of the museum or Tūranga.

Seas of children whenever Oliver came sparked an idea to bring those same people in through a program. She believes it’s important to educate young people on the environment around them and said without an appreciation or a sense of guardianship, the earth would not be looked after.

Parents agreed learning about the environment, and being in it, was good for their children. Parent and biologist Steve Pawson loves that the learning they do is hands-on and experiential. Oliver is convinced that kids learn behaviours from their parents, so if nature is interesting to them or if they’re always on their phone, it's likely to be the same for the child. 

Parent Steve Pawson talks about why he takes his children to Bot Tots

Learning does not stop at the doorway - the tots enjoy telling others of their crafts and spending time in the environment outside their weekly visit.

The volunteers are all gardening enthusiasts who want to share their passion with the next generation. The group wants to continue for another 160 years and say they can't without nurturing young minds into nature.

Bot Tots is not the only group they’ve started for young gardening minds. They have an afterschool gardening club for school-aged kids, and an indoor plant workshop for those following the trends post-lockdown.

Oliver noticed Covid-19 had a big impact on how the community viewed nature and its importance for wellbeing. When they opened after the various lockdowns, seeds were flying off the shelves and interest was circulating around transforming backyards into sources of food to eventually “live off the land”.

The team wants to see more people get involved with the environment and look after it.