Being a big kid is a useful superpower for environmental hero Glenn Browne. “I’m just someone who has never grown up,” the Community Programme Ranger says.
His love of play and the outdoors has helped the Out and About and environmental targeted rate-funded Wild Child: Love our Nature and Wild Family Nature Network programmes at Murphy’s Bush Reserve in Botany flourish.
Wild Child focuses on under sixes, and the family programme on parents and caregivers, getting everyone outside to play and gain a love of nature.
“The more positive experiences children have in nature, the more likely they are to develop into a new generation of kaitiaki who safeguard our environment,” Glenn says.
Superheroes need sidekicks and Craftlab NZ’s Om Ivatt is Glenn’s. “He’s an even bigger kid than me. There’s nothing he can’t make fun. I’ve been working with Om and Craftlab for 15 years and they share that vision of connecting children with the environment. It’s not complicated, it’s just harnessing the power of play.”
Glenn was at the Arataki Visitor Centre for three years, and like Om, grew up playing outdoors.
“When the school holidays came, we lived in the Waitakere Ranges, building huts and playing. Wild Child is about giving kids skills to have their own adventures.”
It was the same for Om. “Growing up as one of seven kids, entertaining ourselves in the outdoors was the name of the game. Dad would take us to make bows and arrows and go treasure hunting and it set me up to make the most of any situation.”
Glenn says it’s different today. “The wildest place some of us have been is the garden centre.”
It’s learn by doing, with harakeke headbands and darts – new plants replacing what’s used, bug hunts, art, bird-watching, tree identification, tummy hikes – crawling to see what is under you – palm frond racing, puddle-splashing and fire-starting with bows, so bush donuts can be cooked.
“We incorporate Te Ao Maori, talk about Pest Free Auckland and show parents how to ‘hang in nature’ with hammocks.
“When you look around Murphy’s Bush Reserve there is housing everywhere, so it’s a place we need to protect, and how better to do that than by getting people to love it.”
Glenn and Om say the courses reinforce being in nature with the kids is good for families because it’s easy, free and builds bonds.
That message is hitting home, with Howick Play Centre running regular nature play sessions, another group set for Omana, and one planned for Barry Curtis Park. There are also plans to set up across Auckland.
With just five community park rangers and two community programme rangers across the city’s 4000 parks, the city will need some more environmental heroes. Wild Child is the breeding ground.