Where Nature Meets Story

One of the lovely outcomes for me of participating in the 2019 Children and Nature Network international conference in California was meeting Tania Moloney from Victoria, Australia.  Tania has boundless mission, creativity and energy for developing deep experiences for both children and adults in the outdoors – founding and creating Nature in Nurture Australia, Treehouse Educators, The Nature Bus and quite a bit more!

At this event in Oakland, she had the opportunity to interview Richard Louv (the author of Last Child in the Woods), during which he planted the seed of an idea in Tania’s mind that she has organically-nurtured and hand-cultivated into a marvellous (and very extensive) event: an amalgam of her online podcasts with the nature-rich, in-person annual retreats for nature educators that she calls a ‘campference’.

Just like Jack’s Beanstalk, the idea just grew and grew, producing many meandering branches whilst reaching to great height!  In growing this wonderful event, Tania has had playful conversations with folk from just about everywhere (and I’m delighted to say that includes both Menna and myself), exploring this interface in many ways and several dimensions.  The idea also grew roots, as manifested in the free Nature Storytelling Playbook we profiled in the previous ECO blog post.

The Where Nature Meets Story Campference sessions are a mix of pre-recorded conversations / interviews, daily live and interactive group sessions (called LIVE ‘Virtual Campfires) and daily interaction and fun in a private Facebook Group.  Nurture in Nature Australia are offering people the opportunity to register for a Campference FREE ACCESS PASS.  This allows people to register and access each day’s sessions for free: each day 3-4 sessions will be available free for 24 hours (after which they will only be accessible with a purchased package), then the following day 3 new sessions will be free to access, and so on each day.

Tania wants to be able to give as many people as possible the chance to participate by offering a free pass.  But there is such a lot on offer that you might well prefer to purchase extended access for a much deeper and more relaxed pace experience (of course this also really helps in covering some of the costs of creating and delivering an event of this scale).  Whether you go for the free pass or extended access, registering to come and play at Campference via this Affiliate Link will benefit the Early Childhood Outdoors website development fund.

I know Tania is preparing a very warm welcome around her virtual campfire – and plenty of good stories and thinking will be shared.

Where Nature Meets Story By Tania Moloney, Nurture in Nature Australia

I love great children’s nature story books and often use them in the nature play and outdoor learning programming I do with children and educators.  I really do enjoy reading the books with children, but often reflect on how I could have made the words and the stories come alive more.  So, in my quest to become a better natural storyteller for and with children, last year I set about researching (let’s be honest, playing) who in this wonderful world of ours was using story to connect children with the natural world – and how exactly were they doing it?

I have never thought of myself as a natural ‘natural storyteller’, but thanks to the wonderful humans I discovered in my research – along with a puppet or two, a story-cape, a story treasure-box and a literal and figurative ‘story bag’ full of ideas, tools and resources – I’ve grown my skills and confidence and they’ve quickly become my new best friends!

And I’ve gathered them all together (40+ of them … including ECO’s own wonderful dirt-digging Jan White and the mud-loving Menna Godfrey) for an immersive and interactive online conference happening 1st – 7th November 2021.

It’s called Campference: Where Nature Meets Story.

Together we’ll dig deep into where nature meets story in oral storytelling, the written word, story books,visual arts, drama, song, poetry, puppetry, yoga, dance, growing a garden, sensory stories, narrative journeying and the many other ways that story can be shared.  We’ll gather around our virtual campfire, connecting with nature and each other to help stories and nature come alive in your practice in a more meaningful way, and in a way that includes, celebrates and amplifies diverse and inclusive voices.

Turning Inspiration Into Action

So what have I learnt from my new friends … and how have I put it into practice?

Back in May I ran my annual face-to-face Campference (Teacher Nature Conference and Retreat) – a weekend sleepover camp for nature loving teachers.  This was my chance to put some of the nature storytelling ideas I have learnt from my new friends to the test in the real world.

During one session, we moulded creatures from clay who later met and came to life as characters in our group Storylines session … a melding of an experience I already do but made all the richer with the Storylines activity I had learnt from forest school leader and online Campference speaker, Chris Holland.

Inspired by two lovely story books and an idea sparked from my online interview with Campference speaker and teacher Beth Knoedelseder, we each created a ‘quilt square’ of ephemeral nature art which later became a collaborative ‘quilt’. A fabric version of our Nature Quilt was gifted to Priya Muthukumar, another dear Campference speaker and environmental storytelling friend in India as a gift of hope during their darkest covid hours.

And these are just two of the practical ideas of the many I have learnt as I’ve been putting together my online Campference.  Not to mention my new ‘Story Treasure Box’ … a game changer!

The Place Where Nature And Story Meet Is A Special Place … For Children And Our Planet

But the story of how and why I came to be exploring the places where nature meets story, actually began way back when I was a nature loving kid myself.  I belonged to the natural spaces and places I played in as a child, we were one – and oh the stories we created, imagined, lived and learnt together!

As an adult, that deep feeling of belonging and a strong sense of ecological identity calms and connects me to myself and to the world around me.  I want to help nurture those feelings of deep connection and belonging for my own children, and for the children I work and play with. I want them to learn and grow and thrive with nature by their sides and in their hearts.  And I want that for the educators and parents I work with and for the children in their care too.

I often wonder what stories my children will tell my future grandchildren about their childhoods.  I hope their musings and memories are full of awe and wonder, dirty knees and imagination-rich adventures that took place in the magical places where nature and story meet.  I hope their recounted tales of wild-ish adventures and free-ish ranging freedoms ignite sparks of curiosity and an adventurous heart that inspires my future grandchildren to explore those magical places too.

Coming together to spread good stories

Now, more than ever, our children need to feel the power of nature in their lives and to hear, and believe in good stories … us big kids do too.  I’m so grateful to have shared time, learnt from and enjoyed warm, enriching conversations with each of speakers at my upcoming online Campference; and I am so excited to be able to share their voices, hearts, and hands on knowledge and methodologies in connecting with nature through story.

Like the time Rusty Keeler and I took a storied hero’s journey into risky play, complete with a call to risky adventure, pitfalls, allies, foes, self doubt transforming to self belief … what an adventure! Or when Jan White and I started digging into Ecological Identity only to discover that Australian children we’re not digging holes to get to the UK after all (they were enthusiastically digging, but their destination was China! – Ed). Of course, it was about the journey, not the destination! Most good stories are.

Whoops, I had better not give away all the goodness here. Let’s just say, these Campference conversations and our live virtual Campfires aren’t your regular talking heads on Zoom!

So, I hope you’ll journey with me as we learn, plan and connect in the special places where nature and story meet.  I’ve scooted over and saved a spot for you next to our Campference campfire – and I can promise you it’ll be a jolly good story!

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