THE WINNERS: From left, first, second and third place.

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Children reconnect with nature through art

"I believe that if change is needed, the children are the solution in the long run. If they are taught to love and care for nature, and taught how important nature is to us, then they will be green and teach their children and friends to be green, and from there it will be spread," wrote Chioma Emesiani. These are the words used by the 16-year-old student of Holy Name Convent to describe her painting entitled "It's easy to be green", which stole the hearts of the judges and won the national poster and art competition on nature organised by the University of the West Indies' Family Development and Children's Research Centre (FDCRC).

"Mother nature is telling the little girl that if she really loves nature and her environment, then it's easy being green because when you see someone you love dying or suffering, you will do all you can to help them," added Chioma.

Her stunning painting of a little girl with a map of the world imposed on her face, which took the top prize of $5,000 in units from Unit Trust Corporation, was selected from 202 entries by judges from the Creative Arts Centre at UWI. Chief judge Ken Crichlow, a respected artist and a lecturer at the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI, said: "I would really like to congratulate the FDCRC for giving the students this forum to channel their talents in this direction, and for the opportunity to express themselves. The visual arts are held so low on the curriculum that opportunities for this kind of expression are invaluable, and getting the students to engage in a very important issue, the environment, is really something to be applauded."

Children aged five to 18 were invited to create posters using natural materials such as leaves, stones, seeds, roots, flowers and anything else they could think of to illustrate the main theme "Reconnecting the world's children with nature", with three themes—"it's easy to be green", "saving our earth" and "inside our outside". It was a difficult task to choose from the two hundred submissions, as many were outstanding. "The work that was done was really interesting," confirmed Crichlow. "I had the benefit of looking at all the work. In terms of the imaginative reach, it spans from the ideal to the less than ideal, which tells you something about the intellectual make-up of the next generation—that they are no different from the present. I hope that the idealists will be able to live out the ideals."

He said the pieces that were finally chosen reflected the high level of technical competencies available to our art students, which, he says, are really extraordinary. Judging the competition was an eye-opening experience for him, and it confirmed that the nation's children of school age have extraordinary abilities.

Crichlow says he was overwhelmed by the talent and concepts that he saw in the submissions, and he doesn't know how such abilities can be converted into an economic life or a personal creative life, but he hopes that they will find their way in the world. "There is no structure that exists right now to do that. Hopefully they are going to invent it."

The poster and art competition is one of five initiatives that the UWI-FDCRC is currently undertaking as part of a worldwide campaign by the World Forum Foundation to reconnect two million children around the world with nature called Nature Action Collaboration for Children. The mission of the World Forum Foundation is to promote an

THE WINNERS: From left, first, second and third place.

ongoing global exchange of ideas on the delivery of quality services for young children in diverse settings. This mission is accomplished through convening gatherings of early childhood professionals around the world and by promoting the continuing exchange of ideas among participants. Current projects focus on men in early childhood education, AIDS and young children, nature education, peace education, teacher education, and immigration and young children. Dr Carol Logie, director of the UWI-FDCRC, is the Trinidad and Tobago Representative of the World Forum Foundation and a member of its International Organizing Committee (IOC). She is a lecturer in Early Childhood Care and Education in the Faculty of Humanities and Education. She has also worked as a preschool teacher in Spain, Canada, and the United Kingdom. During her 30 years of international and regional experience in the field of early education, she continues to be an advocate for children. The World Forum Foundation initiative to reconnect children with nature comes as a result of growing research that shows how fearful young ones are becoming about the natural world. Studies have shown that children's unfounded fears and misconceptions about the natural environment develop when they have very little actual contact with living things and obtain most of their attitudes through the electronic media. They are being exposed to frightening environmental issues at an early age, but are not first being given the opportunity to develop close personal connections with nature. Exposing children to environmental problems beyond their cognitive abilities, understanding and control can cause them to become anxious, tune out and develop "biophobia"—a fear of the natural world and ecological problems. Research based on personal interviews with groups of children varying in age from preschool to age nine found that the attitudes children expressed towards various aspects of the natural environment (rain, wildflowers, trees, birds) included more expressions of fear and dislike than appreciation, caring or enjoyment. The first two years of life are considered a critical time for brain development. TV and other electronic media can get in the way of exploring, playing outdoors, and interacting with parents and others, all critical activities for learning and healthy physical and social development. As children get older, too much screen time can interfere with activities such as being physically active outdoors, reading, doing homework, playing with friends, and spending time with family. The UWI-FDCRC's work on the Nature Action Collaborative for Children is aimed at reaching 150,000 children and families in Trinidad and Tobago over a period of two years. Other initiatives include training for four members from the FDCRC's Family Development Project as well as 23 volunteers who were trained to assist with sensitising students in selected schools between October 2011 and April 2012. Most of these sessions were held outdoors to promote the many benefits of outdoor classrooms. They included art and craft, cooking, school gardening and journaling. The FDCRC's own early childhood and education centre had nature elements integrated into their curriculum, including the construction of a tapia house in the backyard. Murals were painted on school walls. — For more information on the work of the FDCRC and the Nature Action Collaborativefor Children, visit http://worldforumfoundation.org/wf/initiatives/nature-action-collaborative-for-children/nature-action-teams/author/team23

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