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Niñitos de la Naturaleza brings nature to all

In November 2023, El Futuro and the Museum of Life and Science came together to co-create a nature-based learning experience inspired by the Museum’s Nature Kids program. El Futuro is a community-based nonprofit organization that seeks to transform Latino-serving mental health care in North Carolina and beyond. Connections with nature have been shown to generate positive emotions, lower stress, and improve mental health. This program was facilitated in Spanish with attention to a culturally responsive approach to nature-based learning.

This was an opportunity for caregivers to socialize with other adults, for toddlers to be with other toddlers, and for everyone to learn from one another. The Therapeutic Green Space at El Futuro was the background that embraced the growing relationships between families, holding a safe space where the children could interact with nature, be curious, and wonder with plants, rocks, and animals. When children use their senses to explore the natural world through sensory play, they build neural pathways that contribute to healthy brain development.

By the end of the session, the children grew more comfortable with one another, and their adults described feeling more comfortable seeing the toddlers reaching out to touch and play with objects found in nature. “I realized it was ok for my daughter to get messy with the soil, it was normal.”

Some of the participants during the different sessions shared their search for social interaction as “being home taking care of my child feels very isolated.” Their common experience of raising children in a culture different from the one they were raised in created a shared bond as they all rejoiced seeing the kids’ new skills and words.

By the end of the program, families described their interaction with nature being more meaningful and was part of their routine at home. They also felt their time spent in the Therapeutic Green Space had a positive effect on their mental health as they described feeling less stressed, more connected with their children, more willing to open up about their challenges, and knowing it was ok to look for support around their mental health.

We are looking forward to the growth of this program and our continued partnership this spring and beyond.