Force of Nature

Taking time to connect with nature is one of the best things we can do for our own wellbeing, and for our kids.

Kathy Broadhead knows first-hand the positive effects of really experiencing nature — both mentally and physically. She shares her love and knowledge of the outdoors through Nature Library.

Fittingly, Kathy Broadhead is fresh from a blustery morning on Hahei beach when we speak. She’s in the middle of a nature break — something she tries to do when the need arises — walking, disconnecting with the world and getting deep into nature. It revives her creativity and clarity, and gives her emotional and physical health a boost — exactly the benefits she shares with those who take part in Nature Library.

Spending time outdoors and truly taking in the natural world is not typically part of our day-to-day schooling or work — instead, it’s become something we have to choose to do. Kathy started Nature Library in Tauranga three years ago to give kids and adults alike the chance to reconnect with our natural environment, and make the most of the mental and emotional replenishment it offers.

As a qualified environmental educator (Master of Education, Diploma of Teaching and Bachelor of Science), Kathy knows the importance of getting children and their families outdoors. Research (as well as her personal experience) shows time in nature boosts academic learning, personal development and environmental stewardship. It’s just a matter of giving people a nudge to get out there — this is where Nature Library comes in.

Kathy explains the role of an environmental educator is three-part: ‘in’ reflects the experience of being in nature; ‘about’ is teaching about nature and the specific environment students are in, and ‘for’ is the reason for the learning, which is, as she puts it, “Caring for the natural world, taking care of Papatūānuku”.
Over the  last three years, she’s discovered becoming a kaitiaki (guardian) takes care of itself. “I’ve found that after you do the ‘in’ (experience) and ‘about’ (knowledge), the ‘for’ comes naturally for kids — whether that’s an affinity for nature that leads them later in life or more immediate… wanting to pick up rubbish or join a club or write a speech at school.”

It’s this empowering and education-backed approach that leads everything Nature Library does. “It’s simple. Give [people] opportunities to have experiences and learn, and the benefits are life long,” says Kathy. “We create kids that are empowered to care for the natural world. It’s not about telling them what to do, it’s about giving them the opportunity to connect with and develop empathy for nature… to naturally fall in love with it and develop a relationship with it.”

The first iteration of sharing this philosophy was at The Little Big Markets where Kathy sold Nature Adventure Packs from her caravan. The packs were created as an easy way for families to explore the plethora of natural environments on our doorstep: from a Mount Mission, which saw explorers complete activities around the base of Mauao, to a Nature Treasure Hunt that encouraged specific sightings and experiences. These packs gave families a taste of nature’s educational and wellbeing benefits, with the bonus of being able to reuse the packs whenever they wanted. “It was a way to help families connect with nature more easily without having to think about what they were going to do, and hopefully it would spark [them] wanting to do more adventures outside,” she says.

“We create kids that are empowered to care for the natural world. It’s not about telling them what to do, it’s about giving them the opportunity to connect with and develop empathy for nature…
to naturally fall in love with it and develop a relationship with it.”

Soon after, Nature Library evolved naturally (funnily enough) from offering ideas and activities to the form it takes today. The core offering is Nature Kids, which features the Nature School programme (one day a week during the school term, as an alternative to the traditional classroom) and school holiday programmes — both involve small groups immersing themselves in different environments around the Bay. And Kathy’s wish that her Nature Adventure Packs were a gateway to more outdoor exploration came true, as many of the families who used those packs became Nature Library’s first students. “A lot of the kids who still come to me, I met them and their parents at The Little Big Markets — now they’re in the school holiday programmes and in Nature School.”

Although she regularly experiences the benefits of nature in her own life, seeing the growth of the children in her programme reminds Kathy all over again how important this kind of work is. Through the evolution from adventure packs into more personal interaction, she has been able to see the changes in children first hand, with parents and teachers sharing the outcomes with her.

“I had a text from one of the mums recently, telling me their daughter had tried horse riding for the first time. This was a huge step for her because when she first started Nature School, a little over a year ago, she would never have done something like that. When she first came, she was having trouble at school with her anxiety and it made making friends, trying new things and communicating really hard. She’s been coming to Nature School one day a week and when she comes I see her whole body relax. She still has speed bumps, but a year in, she’s calmer, built her self confidence, and now more willing to try to make friends and experience new things.”
It’s these stories of empowerment that Kathy wants every child to be able to have — a desire that has led to the professional development arm of Nature Library, called Nature Education Training. It includes training and resources for teachers, giving them the tools to use environmental education in their own curriculum. “There’s only so much I can do with the kids I work with personally, there are so many other kids out there. The Nature Education programme is where I can have the most impact. It means more kids can connect, explore, learn and play in nature, even in mainstream schools,” she says.

“The absolute dream is for nature education to be a part of everyday school life. We could create an education system that’s revolutionary for tamariki and teachers — creating kids who are happy, calm, connecting and loving their learning.

“I feel hopeful. Since lockdown, I’ve noticed more people appreciating what’s close to home and getting outdoors more. It’s made us look at the way we do things and how we could do them better… it gives me hope for our communities, our future,” says Kathy.

It’s not just children who benefit from Kathy’s love of nature. She shares the personal benefits she gets with other women, who don’t necessarily prioritise themselves, in her Women in the Wild programme, which includes guided nature walks with small groups. “The walks are a gateway to taking time for yourself… realising that doing small things can have such a big impact on your wellbeing. If I can reach one or two women a month, who through the programme start to make time for themselves, that’s worth doing.”

For Kathy, that’s what it all comes back to. Sharing her own love for nature and the benefits it offers, so others can make the most of it too.

Kids collect native plant seeds, clay and compost to make seed bombs, which they take home, dry out, then throw around to plant natives. They’ve also made wildflower bombs for the bees and butterflies.

Nature Library’s Kathy Broadhead in her happy place.


Story by Megan Raynor