Our children are more disconnected from nature than ever before. Due to the constant pressures of technology and social media, they are struggling with alarming levels of depression, anxiety and nature deprivation. Many children spend more than 6 hours per day on screens and less than 30 minutes per week in nature.
The Bateman Foundation’s Nature Sketch program aims to rebuild children’s relationship with nature through the simple art of sketching. Guided by an artist and naturalist, the program develops creativity and skills, builds confidence and helps reduce nature deprivation in our communities.
It was a warm fall day when we first met 9-year-old Hugo in the Japanese Garden at Gorge Park. He was sitting sketching the birds as they flew by, surrounded by his Nature Sketch books, his drawings, and a leather-bound carry-case of pencils, a gift he had received from his mother, Michelle, for Christmas. It was heartwarming to see him sitting there with a huge grin, sunglasses on, enjoying nature!
We then had the opportunity to sit down and learn more about him, and how he feels about the Nature Sketch program and nature as a whole, and it was simply inspiring.
I feel most happy and calm when I am in nature,” he told us. “Some kids just stay inside all of the time and they don’t experience nature at all. It’s very sad! Everyone should experience nature and this program helps you do that by learning online and then getting outside. I watched the videos and then I go outside so I can get better. I can draw better than I did before.”
Prior to learning about Nature Sketch through the free online tutorials, Michelle and Hugo had no knowledge of the Bateman Foundation and the core programming that helps connect all people with nature through the lens of art.
Despite his love of the natural world, Michelle had noticed Hugo withdrawing and not wanting to get involved in family outings or after-school activities. He was spending more time indoors, and she noticed changes in his mood and behaviour.
I was shocked when I saw the program outline as I instantly knew it was perfect for Hugo, to get him outside, to connect with nature. We moved to Vancouver Island from Bowen Island and in our current home in Bear Mountain, we simply cannot just go outside to connect with the world. We have to drive somewhere so this program was truly perfect for us! Hugo was able to learn online and then take that learning outside to the incredible conservatories and parks throughout Victoria – it has been so valuable!
Lily* attended our Nature Sketch program this summer, following in the steps of her older brothers, both confident sketchers already.
Sitting in front of the ducks at Beacon Hill Park, Lily froze with the pencil in her hand and the blank page in front of her.
She had never sketched in nature before, and the process felt bewildering. Her only experience of art was from copying pictures or being in a classroom setting. On her own, she may have decided ‘I can’t do this! I’m no good at drawing’, but with the guidance of an artist and naturalist, she was encouraged to try out shapes and techniques, without fear of getting it wrong.
Sometimes, even as adults, we are so afraid of failure or judgement, that we do not even try.
Nature is magic. It teaches us to explore, to look and to listen. It calms us, and reduces stress and anxiety. In a world where children as young as two years old are exposed to daily screen time, it is vital we reconnect children with the natural world.
Nine weeks after attending Nature Sketch, Lily is discovering the joy and possibility of tones, highlights and shadows – able to bring to life white dandelion puffs on a blank white page. Looking closely at small details and noticing how different and unique things can seem with shadows and contrast was an empowering learning; it gave Lily the confidence to experiment with drawing subject matter in her own style.
“Discovering the creative force within is one of the most magical and empowering moments that can be seen in a Nature Sketch session. Seeing a child have that ‘A-Ha’ moment – the moment they understand their own creative potential to connect with nature using a pencil and know that this creativity will serve them for the rest of their lives, is truly one of the best sights you will ever see.”
Leanne, Nature Sketch Instructor
Thanks to Nature Sketch, Lily is growing in confidence. She doesn’t hold back and wait to see what her brothers do; she is excited and curious to learn things for herself, ask questions and explore the natural world.
“What’s the most important thing in the world?”
It’s a question Bill often asks a new group of children, and the resounding answer is the same
Bill has been involved as a volunteer with Nature Sketch for three years, from its very beginnings at The Bateman Foundation. A member of the Natural History Society in Victoria, he was already an active participant in their schools’ program. We asked him about his experiences with Nature Sketch and what he feels are the main benefits of the program:
For me, it’s about two things. First, I love being out with the kids. You get unadulterated questions and help them to find the answers. I’ve made enquiries to the District of Saanich to find out about particular trees they’ve planted, and then gone back to tell the children what they are. Then they go home and tell their parents, and come back and tell me they were really impressed! Second, the further we progress with technology, the more humanity and connections you make through socialising can get lost. I love innovation, but it doesn’t matter how automated life gets: the most important decisions we make are face-to-face, and interaction is crucial.
Intergenerational programs are proven to be hugely beneficial, giving both children and adults the opportunity to learn new skills and share their stories. Bill told us the program “adds years to my life – it keeps me young!” It’s also a wonderful opportunity for children to understand the past and learn important social skills:
I recently worked with a school group, where we had just been talking about the basic necessities of life – air, shelter, food, socializing – and then took a break for lunch. More than half of the children got out their phones to text or play games. I sat eating my lunch, and one little girl came across to me and said, ‘I want to ask you a question.’ I thought it was going to be about nature or something we’d talked about, but she asked, ‘what was education like when you were my age?’ I told her there weren’t mixed schools like there are today, and about the different paths, and again she asked, ‘what did you do after that?’ So, I told her about my travels with the Merchant Navy and how I came to Canada. We talked through the entire lunch…
Bill is a self-confessed “lousy sketcher”, but Nature Sketch is about a lot more than simply drawing, and Bill returns to the importance of asking questions:
I don’t talk down to the kids; we have conversations. I ask them things like, ‘what colours do you see in birds?’ and the answer to that amazes me – it’s always black and brown. I’ll ask them, ‘what about red? Blue? Green?’ That captures their interest and we get them looking closer. I remember one trip to Francis King Park – it was Fall so the leaves were changing, and one boy spotted a Rough-skinned Newt on the boardwalk. It matched the colour of the wood, just a very plain brown, but we flipped it over and discovered its bright orange tummy – and the kids were filled with wonder. Another little girl was shy at first, and I sat with her as she sketched some small toadstools. It was a fabulous drawing. I asked her why she was drawing it like that, and got her pointing out the details she could see. Well, this got her talking, and you could say she ‘adopted’ me – she was, in fact, a very questioning young lady! Since then, we’ve had some very good conversations and she’ll ask me ‘how’ and ‘why’ about plants and creatures.
Nature Sketch helps challenge children’s interpretation of the world and teach them important aspects of eco-literacy that will serve them as they get older. In response to the earlier answer that so many children give – money – Bill tries to help them understand that money is simply an agent for transaction, and if we do things solely for money, without thinking about nature, we run the risk of destroying what truly is the most important thing in the world.