“Is there an urban nature curriculum in Danish primary schools? And, if not, what should be taught?”

These are only two of the questions discussed at the first Kids and Urban Nature workshop held Thursday March 10th at Traestubben in Copenhagen. The workshop forms part of Worldwatch Europe´s URBIA Kids Project URBIA Kids Project and was an opportunity for the URBIA team to gather information on how urban nature is taught in Denmark.

A group of like-minded individuals attended our workshop and included representatives from the community garden Traestubben, the rooftop garden Østegro, Amass restaurant, the Grønne Friskole, Copenhagen University and members from WWIE´s URBIA Kids project team.

The workshop began with a set of key speeches, the first was presented by Felix Becker from Traestubben community garden. Felix talked about his experience working with children at Traestubben, a nature workshop space located in the Vestebro area of Copenhagen. Felix along with volunteers, some of whom were even teenagers and children, got their hands dirty and set out to build Træstubben – an innovative round, wooden nature house from a structure that was previously a public toilet facility.

During the workshop Felix discussed the type of nature-related activities he carries out with the children in his education program. Felix operates under the notion that “In the city, things come from all over the world,” and asks “How do we want to build the world? What kind of nature and community do we want to build?” One of the educational activities that Felix is quite proud of is getting kids involved with producing “replicas” of traditionally store-bought items such as tea bags and bags of soil from materials found in the city of Copenhagen.

Felix’s activities involve learning about materials needed to make these items and identifying materials for projects within Copenhagen city limits, thus proving that there are ways of creating valuable locally-made products without importing materials from around the world. His projects also allow kids to practice physical skills needed to take on such projects, and perhaps most importantly, kids learn to work together to accomplish goals that benefit the environment and encourage social cohesion. The beauty of Felix’s integrative, engaging and experiential method of teaching kids, is that his lessons come packed with a variety of hands-on, scientific, philosophical and systems-thinking knowledge and skills that seem to have the effect of fostering critical thinking and practical know-how when it comes to working with the community and environment.

If Karen Maclean Founder of Den Grønne Friskole, another of the workshop attendees has anything to say about it, like Felix she thinks that school education should be more than a collection of facts and rather, a series of experiences, which may be achieved through storytelling and building upon existing knowledge of students and teachers. The workshop attendees seemed to agree that showing children the functional side of nature by getting them in touch with the different ecological processes is the way forward for helping children learn about the importance of urban sustainability.

The second key speaker at the URBIA Kids workshop was Andy Gordon Howe, postdoctoral researcher at Copenhagen University, who says that the city is a perfect location to teach kids about nature since “there is so much urban nature and biodiversity in the city it’s ridiculous!” Andy presented a series of interactive activities that could easily be done with children in an effort increase awareness of the urban nature surrounding kids in the urban landscape. One of the notable points of Andy’s presentation was that nature takes its time and that we may need to better factor this into school nature education programs. As an example, you can better learn about seasonal changes not by just one lesson in the classroom, but through a season’s worth of observations and discussions about changes in the environment, such as watching trees bud in spring, leaf and grow during summer, shed leaves in the fall and remain bare during winter or by following, eg, the life cycle of an insect.

Overall in the workshop, there was tremendous emphasis on the idea of using systems thinking for educating children about urban environments. Yet, for the paradigm shift needed to bring meaningful urban nature education into schools, educators should also stress the importance of thinking locally when striving to increase environmental awareness which has the potential of strengthening community bonds as well. All attendees agreed that getting more children to participate in local urban nature projects more often is one key to achieve an increase in and improved urban environmental education.

The Copenhagen restaurant Amass is one, in a burgeoning force of innovative environmental educators operating outside the public school system, and offers children a chance to become involved in the production chain of whole foods via Amass’ urban gardening education program. Evelyn, a PhD in agricultural history and about as farm passionate as it gets, has helped devise a program with head chef Matt Orlando, where kids start by learning to grow their own fruits and vegetables and then learn how to prepare and eat the literal fruits of their efforts.

One of the important conclusions the URBIA team made from the workshop is that there is presently no set of formal curricula for urban-focused nature education in Danish public schools. If we think of our next generation of kids, the large majority of which live in cities, as the environmental stewards of the future, we see urban nature education as the most important way to create such stewardship. We also agree with Livia from Østergro who suggests that, “It is only when we teach children to think critically that they will understand their environment and their place in it”.

While the URBIA Kids project is still in its beginnings, we at WWIE, aim to foster in primary school children in Denmark, a stronger awareness and knowledge of the urban nature surrounding them. We also aim to shed light on the brilliant and fresh ideas that the growing force of grassroots environmental educators bring to urban nature education and we hope that primary schools in Denmark will be inspired to take up this type of curriculum in the future.

Stay tuned for more to come from the URBIA project, starting March 21st with the launching of the URBIA Kids Award Competition. If you are a parent with primary school children, a teacher or school or green grassroots organization working with children, please make sure to participate!

Please visit www.urbia.me for more details