The roots of the future: linking environmental education & health for kids in Italy

Experiencing springwater taste, by Maurilio Cipparone

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Article issued by Maurilio Cipparone. IUCN CEC & WCPA member, involved in nature conservation and parks for 50 years, in three continents. Now leading “NèB”, an Italian pilot project for children’s well-being in nature.”

A “special” nature park dedicated to the education and the well-being of “kid-rangers”

Could we transform an old farm in an extraordinary protected area? Could we go back through the years to recreate a wild marshy landscape once reclaimed for harvesting? Could the reborn wilderness be the “trigger” of an educational vision to put in practice the “Healthy Parks Healthy People (HPHP)” global strategy? Moreover, could children be the main actors in this process?

The answer is YES: the protected area has been established and named Pantanello Nature Park; the abandoned farm’s landscape has been “reclaimed back”; the HPHP vision has been implemented and more than 2,000 school children have been the main actors of an educational programme started in 2015 and still going on, gaining national relevance as a “pilot project”.

But let’s go back to the Park and to the “Kid-rangers” project.

In Italian, ‘pantanello’ means ‘little swamp’. Until 1993, Pantanello was actually an old farm, bordering the renowned Garden of Ninfa Natural Monument. Both the Garden and Pantanello are owned by the Roffredo Caetani Foundation, which manages the cultural and natural heritage of one of the oldest Italian dynasties. Since Roman times, the land has been an extensive marshland, until it was reclaimed in the early thirties to be harvested by veterans.

The farm was gradually abandoned, the ancient landscape – with its natural and cultural values – began to recover: the Foundation, according to its objectives, committed to creating a Park to conserve nature and culture values. They dug a network of ponds to host migratory bird species, built trails and birdwatching shelters, and restored barns and buildings which are now used as classrooms and environmental education labs.

Promoting health and well-being for children

Exploring the ponds

In 2013, Pantanello hosted the second Italian BioBlitz and in 2014 the “Roots of the Future” project started, with the ambition to create the first Italian protected area dedicated to, and possibly managed with, the children from local communities. The educational activities, carried out by a team from the University Consortium CURSA, have been designed for knowledge building and biodiversity conservation, but, gradually, they have been oriented towards activities promoting children’s well-being and their psychophysical development. This unusual path was motivated by the results of research demonstrating how nature can influence children health.

Outdoor play fosters children’s intellectual, emotional, social and physical development

In Pantanello’s environment, all educational objectives have been planned to promote more active lifestyles, to fight obesity, to act against video-addiction, to manage attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) effects.  

This unusual Kid-rangers project shares the objectives of the HPHP strategy and, at the same time, it has helped to promote the commitment of the Italian Ministry of Health.

Outdoor classroom

A pilot project NèB-Natura È Benessere” (Nature IS Well-being) has been launched with the “institutional” objectives to promote knowledge of the health benefits of green spaces for children. Through information and communication campaigns, it aims to raise public awareness and to promote, at different levels of government, the importance of the relationship between nature, biodiversity, human health, and children’s cognitive development through education and training.

Our objective, no less ambitious, is to promote awareness and actions on these issues through all Italian Parks: to keep the project’s benefits alive, building beyond the borders of the Ministry’s support.

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