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Mini seminars

Inspiring nature play
health benefits

Mini seminar 1 - Inspiring Nature Play. 3 June 2011. Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

“Inspiring Nature Play” was a half day seminar that brought together key thought leaders to share their experience and wisdom with anyone who believes that kids do better outside. Participants heard the growing body of evidence that ‘nature play’ is fundamental for early childhood development and discovered inspiring examples of how this is done around the world.


Speakers: Dr Sue Elliott, Christine Joy (Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne), Deborah Prentice (Parks Victoria) and Narelle Dabenham (Natured Kids).


Feedback from participants:

“Very relevant, informative and interesting. Good networking opportunities.”

“Inspiring and offered some great ideas for 'playscapes'.”

“Investigated and consolidated my beliefs in childhood being heightened by experiential learning and engaging with nature.”

“Great to hear from such passionate presenters. Excellent practical ideas.”






Mini seminar 2 - Connecting with Nature, The Health Benefits.    

Friday, 28th October 2011, Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens

Our second mini-seminar investigated the health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in a natural environment - especially for young people.

We discovered the growing body of evidence that time outdoors is fundamental for children’s health and wellbeing.


Dr Dimity Williams outlined the current health issues faced by children today due to their move inside, away from nature. These health problems include vitamin D deficiency, obesity, depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders like ADHD. She discussed how nature can be both prevention and cure for many of these often related conditions and advocated for a ‘green hour’ to become part of the everyday for kids.


Basil Natoli is a Special Education Teacher, Community Gardens advocate and keen gardener who brings more than 25 years of experience in developing garden programs and initiatives for children and adults in a wide range of settings. Basil drew on his experience working with children and adults who have been disadvantaged or marginalised due to their health or living circumstances. Basil shared his passion and enthusiasm for the garden as a place where children and adults from varied circumstances can enjoy the health benefits of a connection with nature. We were moved to hear how terminally ill children can receive some solace from nature, a particular example being a child who had butterflies from the Melbourne Zoo brought in daily to provide him with much needed distraction from his illness.


Dr Ian Williams is a Postgraduate Research Fellow at the Centre for Adolescent Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, an Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and psychologist at Spectrum Personality Disorder Service in Victoria.  With professional training in Psychology and Education, Ian has a particular interest in adolescent mental health and wellbeing, positive youth development, and outdoor and nature-based health promotion. In 2009 he completed a PhD thesis examining relationships between adventure participation and youth depression, and developed and evaluated a new framework to promote wellbeing through structured outdoor experiences.

Ian provided a brief introduction to the area of health and nature and outlined the growing body of evidence that points to the health promoting aspects of contact with nature.


Dr Kathleen Bagot is a Research Fellow at the University of Queensland (School of Psychology) and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne (School of Population Health).  Kathleen has a broad and varied applied social psychology background investigating positive outcomes for children and adult's mental and physical health. Kathleen discussed how physical environments affect the way people think, behave and feel, with a specific focus on the role of vegetation and green spaces in the daily lives of children living in urban communities. It was fascinating to hear of her work which found the more nature rich the school grounds, the greater the children’s attention was restored during play time and inspired many of us to consider how we can fit in some time in these sort of places to restore our focus and that of the children in our care.

Feedback of participants:


“All speakers were fabulous. Excellent variety of expertise.”

“Good balance of academic and personal experience knowledge.”

“Confirmation of my own experience”.

“Great speakers and topic. Relevant to a wide range of people/ professions.¨

“Very inspiring, but also reinforced a belief in healing power of nature! Interesting to hear the different perspectives.”

Nature, cities & urban planning

Mini seminar 3 - Nature, cities and urban planning, how do our kids connect?

This was our third mini-seminar and was held in May 2012. We investigated how our kids connect to nature in urban places. The impetus for this topic was the understanding that in 2008, for the first time in history, there were more people living in cities than in rural or regional places. This has a profound impact on where our kids grow up and how they perceive nature.


Dr Julie Rudner is a lecturer in the Community Planning and Development Program, La Trobe University, Bendigo. She will presented a brief overview of urban planning in relation to children, some recent research conducted in a regional city, and development partnerships that are pushing the boundaries.


The children's book author and illustrator Roland Harvey is convinced of the value of green spaces for kids (and grown-ups). The outdoors provides constant material for his books. Sherbrooke Forest, with its lichens, mosses and lyrebirds, inspired his first book, created as a grubby 8 year old! Roland is interested in enhancing the experience for children near where he lives, on the Yarra Parklands. 'As an artist I think I am very lucky to have a heightened appreciation of the beauty and complexity of these places and I often wish I knew how to convey that sense to other people, including our planners'.


Ben Rossiter is Executive Officer of Victoria Walks, which is funded by Vic Health to get more Victorians Walking every day. Victoria Walks runs campaigns and events (e.g. Victoria Walks to School) that promote walking for transport, health or fun; supports communities to make their neighbourhood more walkable; and is a leading voice on creating a livable and walkable Victoria. Ben discussed the importance of walkable communities, and how they can create opportunities to engage with the natural world. He takes great delight in walking and mucking around in neighbourhood public spaces with his young children, particularly places where they can get dirty and it was inspiring to hear how the simple act of walking in their neighbourhood can provide opportunities for kids to experience the wonders of nature, even something as small as an ant crawling up a tree trunk!


Janet Rice explored some of the political, sociological and urban planning dimensions of connecting with nature in our cities, with a focus on the cultural challenges, particularly for children and young people - and how increasing housing density in our cities can be part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. Janet is a former Councilor and Mayor of the City of Maribyrnong, and former Chair of the Metropolitan Transport Forum. She is known for her passion about climate change and sustainability including her advocacy for sustainable transport and urban planning, and building community engagement on these issues. Janet lives in Footscray with her partner, two teenage sons, cats and chooks, in a messy house with an overgrown urban wilderness garden.

Connecting to Country

Mini Seminar: Connecting to Country, Sharing Stories

Our first VCNC mini seminar of 2013 had a once-in-a-lifetime line-up of speakers and began with a traditional welcome to country by Dean Stewart and a Tanderrum smoking ceremony performed by Trevor Gallagher from the Royal Botanic Gardens with Natasha van Velzen dancing some traditional stories for us.

Participants then joined three acclaimed Indigenous Australian artists on a journey to celebrate our connection to land, our past, our roots, our history and the synergies of cross-cultural meetings and explored how we can help our kids develop a deep affinity with country and the natural world.

We experienced first-hand stories from our three special guest artists about how they utilise sounds, smells, sights, memories and emotions to express their strong ties to country. William Barton, Australia's leading didgeridoo player along with his mother, Delmae Barton, Dreamtime opera diva, mesmerised us with their music as the grounds of the gardens throbbed to the sounds of the didge and Delmae's soaring vocals.

We all joined in and together created a shared dance and vocal piece following a fascinating discussion of stories, music and how these connect us to place, particularly as children.

Glenn Romanis, sculptor and visual artist, worked with us in two groups outdoors to collaboratively create a natural 'installation' art piece. The brief was for us to utilise the nature around us to create an artwork which told a story of place. We worked under an ancient River Red Gum which overlooked the lake, once a bend in our sinuous Yarra River. Together we made an amazing artwork depicting the clans of the Kulin Nation, their totems and the story of change in this special place.

A highlight of the day for many was when several curious swans joined in the celebratory 'swan dance' through the artwork- they seemed very much aware of what we strange humans were up to!

What a beautiful and moving morning!! Thanks to everyone who joined us for Connecting to Country, Sharing Stories. Thanks so much to our wonderful speakers, didgeridoo legend William Barton, dreamtime opera diva Delmae Barton, sculptor and visual artist Glenn Romanis, Trevor Gallagher and Dean Stewart for sharing their inspirational life stories, their art and their love for country!

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