Who They Are
Aurélia Chevreul-Gaud is an Amsterdam mama and a woman with a vision as simple as it ambitious: to protect our planet by fostering a love of nature among children. Together with co-founder Claire Bano Devautour, she set up the Amsterdam Mamas Recommends Award winning business Naya Nature which seeks get children to engage with the natural world in their own localities.
I met Aurélia for a chat and a walk around the Beatrixpark on a mild November afternoon. While our choice of venue may have been driven by the corona rules, there could have been nowhere more fitting for a meeting with this passionate nature mediator. Beatrixpark is the location of all of Naya Nature’s after-school clubs and holiday camps. Indeed, while we talk, one of her own two children is whooping with glee among the trees with the Achachak Tribe.
All Naya Nature activities are led in English as their target audience are the primary school children of Amsterdam’s international community. While our little globe trotters may live materially comfortable lives they are often impacted by nature deficit disorder nonetheless. Sometimes families are already aware of the necessity to bring nature into their lives; for them, Naya Nature Foundation brings a steady breath of nature and wonder into teir urban lives. Without having to leave Amsterdam!
But Naya Nature’s ambitions go beyond preaching to the converted. The foundation wants to extend its social impact by reaching out to children currently disconnected from the natural world. Aurélia paints an alarming picture of their real fear of nature: “‘We see kids who are afraid of a moth. We see kids who do not want to sit down on the ground even in rain trousers ‘because it is dirty’”. To this end they have created a forest school outreach program, which brings Naya Nature’s pedagogy into Amsterdam international schools AICS and Amity International, and are writing online guides to allow their teaching to be dissipated more widely.
Core values? “Resilience, empathy, curiosity and creativity”
Philosophy, Pedagogy and Planning
While listening to Aurélia, any preconceived ideas that Naya Nature was essentially supervised, free play outdoors are quickly dispelled. The depth of thought, planning and research that goes on behind the scenes is impressive. This is a carefully designed educational offering. It is not a matter of bringing the traditional classroom with its usual trappings outdoors. Naya Nature represents a different way of learning which allows children to experience nature at first hand. Through this, both their physical and mental health improve. The Naya Nature team sets objectives for each year of its three-year program, with each session encompassing two or three ‘areas of learning’. But the vagaries of nature – and the weather – mean that the best laid plans can always be laid to waste. Naya Nature plans for contingencies, and mediators are flexible and respond to circumstances with spontaneity.
Naya Nature’s programs are grounded in the core values of “resilience, empathy, curiosity and creativity”. By instilling these qualities in the children entrusted to its care it hopes to rebalance young lives in the here-and-now and develop adults-to-be at once well-adjusted to themselves, their fellow humans, and the planet at large.
“... the kids we received through the corona crisis are more and more in lack of outdoors ...”
No conversation in 2020 is complete without mention of the Corona crisis. When asked how the hiatus of the pandemic had caused her to reflect upon her vision for Naya Nature, Aurélia emphasises that it has ‘re-enforced totally’ that she was already on the right track. While the pre-pandemic children had already lost “90% of the ground around them” compared to their parents’ generation, she told me sadly how “the kids we received through the corona crisis are more and more in lack of outdoors”.
She felt that this was particularly true of international as opposed to Dutch children. While the Dutch Prime Minister and Public Health Institute (RIVM) encouraged children to get out into nature throughout the spring lockdown, many international families tuned into the news and rules of their own countries and kept their children inside. While parents perceived this as a means of keeping their families safe from disease, the children encountered different dangers: isolation and declining mental and physical health.
We are increasingly well-informed about how Covid19 spreads. Primary school aged children – Naya Nature’s target audience – are little affected and so the Dutch government requires no distancing between them. Fresh air and sunlight in the great outdoors quickly dissipate and destroy virus particles. There is little risk from Naya Nature’s activities for its child participants.
But of course, young children need to be taken to their activities by adults for whom the corona rules are necessarily stricter. Each Naya Nature session is preceded by a WhatsApp message to the child’s parent or guardian, reiterating the need to maintain distance and not exceed the government-permitted group size. While once upon a time parents might have enjoyed their childfree hour by sloping off to the Beethovenstraat for a coffee with friends, and some still seize the moment for a quick supermarket dash, many continue to enjoy the peace and nature of the park by chatting in pairs or going for a jog. And when it really buckets down as sooner or later it always does in Amsterdam, Naya Nature has come to an agreement with the nearby Stitching Vrijburg which has a room where parents can take shelter from the elements, suitably masked and distanced.
A Metaphor for a Better Future
Naya Nature runs its programs in public parks close to where children live and go to school. It hopes in this way to acquaint them with the nature of their own localities so that they may return and cherish it in their own time. But using public space is not without its challenges. The team invariably arrives early to check and clean up before the children arrive and sometimes, they do clean-ups with the children too. Naya Nature respects the places it uses and always leaves them in a better state than which they found them. This seems like a just metaphor for its overall endeavours. By teaching children to leave things better than they found them, there is hope for the future of our planet.
To find out more about Naya Nature, see their website and Facebook page.
Disclaimer: Naya Nature has paid to be featured on Amsterdam Mamas because they believe that their services would be of interest and benefit to our readers, and we think so too. For more information on sponsored posts and advertising on Amsterdam Mamas, please see our Advertising and Disclosure policy.
Rachel Perry is the British mama of three grown-up and almost grown-up half-French children and has lived in the Netherlands since 2006. Formerly Editor-in-Chief at Amsterdam Mamas, she currently works as a translator and writer.