Helping young people get Active in Nature

Wednesday 3 April, 2024

There’s nothing quite like being active in nature - an idea Parks Victoria and Outdoors Victoria are instilling in young people through a series of fun, action-packed adventures. 

Funded by VicHealth, the Active in Nature 2023-24 Project aims to engage young people that face barriers to accessing nature and outdoor activities due to social, physical or cultural reasons, and impressing upon them the many benefits spending time in nature has. Supporting young people to get into nature is an important Healthy Parks Healthy People commitment, as it ensures they understand the benefits of nature for self-care which in turn creates advocates for our parks now and into the future. 

The Active in Nature program aims to instil these ideas in young people who have not had the opportunity to get involved in nature-based activities. The program consists of 30 separate outdoor recreation events held in Yarra Bend Park, You Yangs Regional Park, Lysterfield Park and Grampians National Park. Each event will give a different group of young people the opportunity to learn how to kayak, hike, abseil, mountain bike and everything in between. 

To date, more than 100 young people and their support workers have participated in 13 different events. Feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive, with 82 per cent saying they feel more confident in nature, 84 per cent saying they feel happier, and 80 per cent saying they intend to get active more often. 

Research has shown that spending time in nature contributes to positive health and wellbeing in a variety of ways. Not only is being active in nature important for our physical health, but time spent in nature is restorative for our mental health and wellbeing as well. Spending time in nature with a group of people also fosters important social connections and helps reduce loneliness. 

A group of people prepares to abseil at You Yangs Regional Park

Photo: A group of young people prepare to abseil down a cliff at You Yangs Regional Park. Credit: Outdoors Victoria.

The Laverton Youth Foundation is one of the organisations who have participated in the Active in Nature program, sending a group of young people abseiling in You Yangs Regional Park, on the Traditional Country of the Wadawurrung People. Katie, a coordinator at Laverton Youth Foundation, said she had seen “huge” benefits for the young people engaged in the Active in Nature program. 

“From the obvious health and mental health effects of being outside and doing something active, to the added benefits of helping our youth to feel more connected to their new country, culture and community,” Katie said. 

“Most of the young people who attended have been in the country less than five years, with the newest member arriving just two weeks prior to the event. Many had never been abseiling, never been to the You Yangs and didn’t know that such a wonderful resource was so close to home. We had a great day exploring nature.” 

“School holiday activities are always hard for us to fund and having the opportunity to take a group of newly arrived youth to an activity such as abseiling in the You Yangs, so close to our operational area, is fantastic.” 

Parks Victoria Education Officer Vanessa Wiggenraad assisted a separate group of young people in You Yangs Regional Park try mountain biking through the park’s many trails. 

A group of people prepares to mountain bike at You Yangs Regional Park

Photo:  Parks Victoria Education Officer Vanessa Wiggenraad talking to a group of young mountain bikers at You Yangs Regional Park.

“My talk focused on why the You Yangs is significant to the Wadawurrung people and how we can all look after Country,” Vanessa said. 

“The aspect I enjoyed most on the day was seeing a group of young people enjoy the You Yangs who don’t usually visit the park. Most participants had never done mountain biking – it was great to see their confidence grow in doing this activity. I am sure I will see the participants back at the You Yangs in future.” 

This sentiment is echoed by EACH WILD team leader Matt Franks, who was on hand to teach a group a young people about kayaking in Yarra Bend Park, on Wurundjeri Country. 

A group of young people in kayaking in Yarra Bend Park

Photo: Teaching people to kayak at Yarra Bend Park is just one of the activities in the Active in Nature program

“Some of the things I really love to see when we’re providing these WILD programs is how young people really bring a purpose to it.” 

“We really want to bring in this idea of a place to reflect and be part of nature, and hear nature around us - this is a wonderful opportunity for that.” 

By the time the Active in Nature 2023-24 Project comes to an end, hundreds of young people will have had that same opportunity to learn more about nature, the importance of being active, and the many physical and mental health benefits, as well as social connections, that come from combining the two. 

To find out more about how spending time in nature can benefit you and your health, please click here.

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