Connecting kids with nature is connecting them with themselves. Naya Nature, Winner of the Amsterdam Mamas 2018 Awards Best Class for Older Children, is getting kids away from screens and into greens. Mary Petiet sat down with its founder Aurélia Chevreul-Gaud to learn about Naya Nature’s story and its programs.

Small hands grasp green leaves and vegetables pop from the earth. A group of children participating in a gardening program designed to connect youth to nature is delighted by the simple magic of pulling food from the soil. In the great outdoors, the harvesting of the humble red radish clearly evokes far more emotion than a screen could ever inspire.

Back to Nature 

Naya Nature in Amsterdam is a new off-screen collaboration inspired by Montessori teachings aimed at following the child. Naya Nature provides outdoor nature-based education to connect children to the natural world and to their own inner nature. Naya Nature’s team of passionate highly-trained mediators perpetuate knowledge and love for the outdoor world to counterbalance the excessive amounts of indoor time so typical of modern childhood, all year long in any weather. They pledge to make children feel at home in nature, so they become well-adjusted and deeply happy in the world they inhabit. Naya Nature believes children who learn to love nature today will become the adults who care for nature tomorrow. 

“We are fighting Nature Deficit Disorder. We are here but not here; we are not present if we are on our screens. Today’s children have lost 90% of their outdoor freedom” – Aurélia Chevreul-Gaud

Only Connect

Aurélia, the founder of Naya Nature with Claire Bano Devautour, the co-Director, is all about connection. Their mission is to provide children and parents the keys to all elements of human to human connection and human to nature connection. “We are fighting Nature Deficit Disorder. We are here but not here; we are not present if we are on our screens. Today’s children have lost 90% of their outdoor freedom,” Aurélia says.

Wanting the best for her own young family after 15 years of big city living in Paris, Aurélia followed her husband to Amsterdam for another quality of life. “I have always loved making change, and this became a wonderful opportunity to do what I love. I was becoming re-aware of nature through the protection of my kids, and then I studied making a school and connected it to Naya Nature as I read about Nature Deficit Disorder. Naya Nature is about Nature Deficit Disorder. It is to preserve the future while saving kids now. I love connection, so I immediately looked for an associate, and now work with Claire and a wonderful team.”

Aurélia describes the vital connection of people to themselves and to nature as a concentrated circle. “In the first circle, you know yourself, your talents, your skills, and your limits. In the second circle, you respect yourself and then you respect others. In the third circle, you respect nature because we don’t live in a bubble, and nature is the perfect way to practice that. Knowing yourself and nature is so important because it helps us practice resilience, so when we have difficulties we can withstand them. It’s also a route to empathy because opening to empathy is how humans connect. We cannot live alone and if we practice empathy we can, without preaching, empower kids to fall in love with nature so they will want to protect nature,” she explained.

Naya Nature pledges to make children feel at home in nature, so they become well-adjusted and deeply happy in the world they inhabit. Naya Nature believes children who learn to love nature today will become the adults who care for nature tomorrow.

In addition to going into schools with nature programs such as gardening, Naya Nature offers small group classes for children and parents, and children’s clubs for youth aged 2 to twelve. In workshops, they share tips and ideas about parents’ role in child’s play, especially in nature, and explore how parents can bring more nature into their child’s life.

Parent and child classes include one parent with one child to take time to make a powerful connection with nature together. Young children aged two to four can participate in body acting in nature while garden clubs focus on growing skills for tomorrow. These are conducted on the north side of the Beatrixpark where Naya Nature has a partnership with Vrijburg which includes a shelter and a small garden. Another workshop, Children vs. the Wild, gives kids the benefit of daring to experience perceived risks in nature. Naya Nature emphasizes free play and guided experiences as children explore the outdoors.

Nature as Antidote

Aurélia believes restoring children to nature is an antidote to much that plagues modern society.  “In nature, we focus holistically on all areas of learning. The arts, relaxation, mindfulness, gardening, and acting. There are several kinds of intelligence, including music, logic, language, and interpersonal. We want to address them all. Through this, the children see that nature is everywhere, and ask, ‘Why don’t we go into nature more often?’ When parents leave overscheduling behind and make space for nature, children can learn about their emotions. Nature Deficit Disorder has been researched as a real thing by US journalist Richard Louv, whose work shows that kids outside of nature experience increasing behavioral disorders including ADHD, stress, and anxiety. It’s an individual problem and it’s a societal problem. Dissociation from the self causes personal problems, while dissociation from nature causes the ongoing destruction of nature,” Aurélia expounds.

Children in Nature Do Amazing Things

Once a year Naya Nature organizes a problem-solving Eco Squad Mission which asks children what they want to do to protect nature. “In the recent Beatrixpark Eco Squad Mission, the kids selected the prevention of water animals from eating plastic. They brainstormed, and first they wanted to create a robot with a battery to tell people not to pollute the water. When they further analyzed the situation, they considered where the plastic is and why there is so much of it, and they discovered different causes.  People are littering and there is a lot of garbage in the Beatrixpark where the bins are not covered so the magpies are moving the garbage around. Then the kids came up with an action, which included collecting the garbage and asking the council to cover the bins. At the ensuing Wake-Up Nature Presentation, the children displayed posters showing what they had collected, and how to reduce plastics. Children no more than seven years old made a demonstration in front of 30 people to show their solutions, which had moved from a robot to decisive, effective action” says Aurélia proudly.

It starts small, with a bunch of radishes, and grows to connect the self to the self, and the society to nature.  “I’m the ideals part of our team, it’s change I believe in. Each time we bring a kid into nature I have the feeling we am sowing seeds, changing the world one kid at a time.”

Are you curious to learn more about Naya Nature? To learn more about their programs and camps, please visit their website and Facebook page.

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.

Photo credits: All photos provided with copyright permission by Naya Nature.

Mary Petiet
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Mary Petiet is an author, poet, and freelance writer. Her work is inspired by her native Cape Cod and her experiences in the Netherlands. The author of the recently released Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems, and Owl Magic: Your Guide Through Difficult Times, Mary is also the founder of Sea Crow Press, a small independent imprint curating creative nonfiction and poetry to give her titles a home.