Promoting Biological and Cultural Diversity via the Web
Volume 1 Number 25 - December 2002
Living in towns, children do not have much opportunity to develop a relationship with nature. As a result they tend to have a partial view of it. Public parks and gardens, places of proximity, could be perceived as an abstract of nature, but when children draw a garden the principal elements they draw are paths, benches and borders.
Since October 2001, children from Brest have been exchanging information about gardens with children from all over the world - Algeria, Spain, Rumania, USA, Ireland, Germany, Great Britain, Burkino Faso, Italia, and Japan – by means of a website (http://jardinsdenfants.free.fr). Towns in these countries are all twinned with Brest. Together with the help of botanists, naturalists, gardeners, and artists, children have discovered that the conception and development of a garden is governed by ecology.
Each class has created a model of an ideal and imaginary garden, mixing ecological and cultural diversity. Children from eight twinned towns came to Brest in June 2001, to exhibit their models in the City Hall. They also worked together to create a map of the twinned garden that could be constructed in Brest in the future. During the year, this project gave staff of the Conservatoire an opportunity to work with environmental educators in Brest, departments of the City, and children from different parts of the world, using nature and cultural diversity as a focus for collective discovery.
From October 2000 to June 2001, the program 'Jardins d’Enfants' (children’s gardens) brought together 350 children from all over the world The children came from the French city of Brest and its 10 twinned towns. The aim of this program, which focused primarily on urban green spaces, was to raise school childrens' awareness of bio-diversity and urban ecology, widen their cultural outlook and stimulate their imagination, their powers of observation and their aesthetic awareness.
The Internet proved the best available tool to communicate across continents, to make acquaintances and to exchange views. During the course of the school year, the children at each school built a model of their ideal garden. They then got together in Brest in June 2001 to create the plan of the twinned garden.
The Roots Of The Project
A similar venture had been undertaken the year before with two primary schools from Brest. This had involved a partnership between the Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest, a plastic artist (Gaëlle Kéroullé) environment staff from wildlife societies, and City Environmental Services, as well as the schools concerned.
This first effort was so successful that Gaëlle Kéroullé decided to develop the scheme on an international level. The aim of the scheme was to involve schoolchildren from Brest and from another 10 towns twinned with Brest. Supported by the member of the city council responsible for twinning, the education team set up an association entitled 'Jardins d’enfants'. This enabled us to obtain funding specifically for the program and to employ Gaëlle Kéroullé as coordinator for a full year. Once every month or so the Brest education team met to assess the progress of the program.
Children living in towns often have limited access to and limited knowledge of the environment. This was why we focussed on urban green spaces as the framework for this initiative. Most towns have their own open spaces, which often offer the only bit of nature in the neighbourhood where children can play and express themselves freely. The idea was to show the children that this place they regularly go to can prove a stimulating place to discover the natural environment, once conditions are provided for doing so.
The scheme started by asking the children to illustrate their best memories of nature. This enabled their teachers and educators to get an idea of the way the children perceived the natural world as compared to their urban environment, as well as to assess their achievements by the end of the program.
In Brest as well as in the 10 twinned towns, the principle was to have each one of the classes concerned work throughout the year, on one particular urban green space near their school, studying it from a variety of different viewpoints, under the supervision of educators with different specialities.
For instance, the two classes from Brest, tackled the following themes:
- The creation and maintenance of an urban green space - with the gardening staff of the city.
- Wildlife - with an educator from a local wildlife trust.
- Plant biology - with an educator from a scientific society.
- Native and exotic trees and plants threatened by extinction - with an educator from the Conservatoire Botanique.
- Energy sources (photosynthesis, wind and hydraulic power) - with a science teacher.
- Using green spaces for artistic purposes and for fun – with an artist.
In the course of these sessions, the children were able to grasp the concept of urban green areas, and their perception of these was broadened and diversified. Roughly half way through the year we asked them to prepare a plan for a recreation and play ground.
Children Join In The Game
Having grasped various concepts relevant to urban green spaces, the children could then draw up the maps for their ideal garden. We encouraged them to use their imaginations fully when planning the gardens.
In this way, little by little, urban spaces with such names as the prehistoric corner, the colour garden and the tentacle garden began to appear on paper. The playgrounds had names such as the bouncy hills, the orientation garden or the live plant labyrinth. There were also some special spaces with names like the beautiful grove, water reflections and the peaceful garden.
The children researched the information they needed themselves. They found out about building materials, the objects in the gardens, the plants and the animals they wished to have in their spaces.They could also ask their various educators for more information via the Internet. For example, Audrey wanted a prehistoric corner with owls, The Conservatoire Botanique provided her with a list of ancient plants, such as Ferns, Conifers, Magnolias, and amazing plants such as Gunneras. The wildlife educator gave her hints as to how to attract owls and have them nesting in her garden. From these suggestions, the children picked out those species, which they preferred, and which were also compatible with one another.
When each garden space was clearly defined the children put them all together in an overall plan to create the class garden. With the help of the artist and their teacher, the pupils built a small-scale model of their ideal garden. The classes of the 10 twinned towns worked along the same lines as the two Brest forms.
Internet: Communication and Exchanges
The classes were told about the childrens' gardens scheme in October 2000. They sent their applications to enter the scheme and presented their class and their town. This information was put on the childrens' gardens' website and the text translated into French and English.
In November a first virtual meeting took place to enable the children to exchange ideas and this proved a success. Every two months or so a Newsletter entitled Turdus News was sent to all partners involved in the program, recounting what was being done and how things were progressing in the eleven towns.
A second virtual meeting took place in May so as to prepare the June meeting in Brest between the twinned towns. The Internet proved the ideal tool for the children to exchange information and, as the web site developed, to follow the progress of the project and to maintain the interest of the participants.
The Brest Meetings
The actual meetings that took place in Brest between the children representing each class, involved all the other people concerned as well. Although these meetings were an opportunity for fun, the children had an important target to reach: to create a plan of the twinning garden which may one day be set up in Brest.
A whole day was needed to achieve this result:
In the morning, the children representing each twinned town chose the elements they wanted to keep from the different plans drawn up by their colleagues from the other towns,
In the afternoon each one of the groups presented their proposal and a debate was held as to which elements should go into the final model. This step was particularly arduous since the discussion had to be simultaneously translated into five different languages so that everyone could understand what was going on and express their own point of view.
But we were not building a tower of Babel and we did manage to accomplish this step and design the final model for the twinned garden. The next day, the children coloured the map of the twinned garden and displayed their model in Brest town hall.
At the end of the day, the city councillors opened the exhibition presenting the different twinned towns and the models built by the children. There the children officially offered the plan for the twinned garden to the city councillor responsible for twinning. The wish that everyone expressed was that one day the map may serve as the basis for the creation of a real garden in Brest.
But the children were not in Brest just to work. This was above all a wonderful opportunity for children aged from 10 to 15 from strikingly different cultural backgrounds to meet, play together and discover our town and our way of life.
Amongst other lively events in the course of that week we hope they will remember:
- A big discovery trail in a wooded park
- The unveiling of the models and the official opening at the Town Hall
- The meeting with the City Councillors
- The evening party in a youth hostel
- The twinned garden celebration party itself.
The Twinned Garden Party
On the eve of the children’s departure, a big party was organised in a public park close to the Town Hall to open this twinning project to the whole population of Brest. This pleasant afternoon ended with the children planting a young oak to celebrate the meeting and to consolidate the twinned garden project. Acorns were offered to the authorities of the twinned towns to plant in their respective countries. These acorns were a living symbol of the generous sharing that marked this scheme, and the enduring nature of the relations it established between children of different cultures.
Whether for the children from Denver or those from Saponé, this twinning focussing on environment education enabled children and educators to exchange and develop ideas about and deepen their understanding of nature. It did this in a way that was both scientific and imaginative. The Internet made this possible.
This experience also showed that it was possible to bring together children from different origins, cultures and mother tongues and to have them work on a common project, stimulating a desire both to discover and to share with others. The games, the exchanges, and the debates raised by this meeting in Brest will certainly leave their marks, as the smiles, the laughter and the bright eyes clearly indicated.
Today, the Internet site and the oak planted by these emissaries in the heart of Brest, bear witness to the wonderful scientific and cultural success the meeting produced. Let us hope that this simple and generous action may inspire new initiatives and nurse the desire to bring people together and discover more about each other and the natural world, which surrounds them.
Les enfants des villes n’ont pas souvent l’occasion d’entrer en contact avec la nature. De ce fait, ils ont tendance à en avoir une vue incomplète. Les parcs et les jardins publics, espaces de proximité, pourraient être perçus comme un morceau de nature, mais quand les enfants dessinent un jardin, les principaux éléments qu’ils représentent sont les chemins, les bancs et les clôtures.
Depuis octobre 2001, des enfants de Brest ont échangé des informations sur les jardins avec des enfants du monde entier (Algérie, Espagne, Roumanie, USA, Irlande, Pays Bas, Angleterre, Burkina Faso, Italie et Japon) par l’intermédiaire d’un site web (http://jardinsdenfants.free.fr). Des villes de ces différents pays sont jumelées avec Brest. Les enfants, avec l’aide de botanistes, de naturalistes, de jardiniers, et d’artistes, ont découvert que la conception et le développement d’un jardin sont dominés par l’écologie.
Chaque classe a créé un modèle de jardin idéal et imaginaire, prenant en compte la diversité écologique et culturelle. Les enfants des huit villes jumelées sont venus à Brest en juin 2001, pour exposer leur modèle à l’Hôtel de Ville. Ils ont aussi travaillé en commun pour élaborer le plan d’un jardin du jumelage qui pourrait être construit à Brest dans l’avenir. Au cours de l’année, ce projet a donné à l’équipe du Conservatoire l’occasion de travailler avec les éducateurs à l’environnement de la Ville de Brest et des enfants de différentes régions du monde, en utilisant la nature et la diversité culturelle comme support pour une découverte collective.
Al vivir en las ciudades, los niños no tienen mucha oportunidad para desarrollar una relación con la naturaleza. Así es que suelen tener solamente una vista parcial de ella. Los parques y jardines, zonas próximas a ellos, pueden ser percibidas como una representación de la naturaleza, pero cuando los niños dibujan un jardín, los elementos principales que dibujan son los caminos, los bancos y los arriates.
A partir de octubre del 2001, los niños de Brest han estado intercambiando información sobre los jardines con niños de todo el mundo – Argelia, España, Rumanía, Estados Unidos, Irlanda, Alemania, Gran Bretaña, Burkino Faso, Italia y el Japón – a través de una página web (<http://jardinsenfant.free.fr>). Hay ciudades hermanadas con Brest en todos estos países. Con la ayuda de botánicos, naturalistas, jardineros y artistas, los niños han descubierto que el concebir y desarrollar un jardín esta gobernado por la ecología.
Cada clase ha creado un modelo de jardín ideal e imaginario, combinando la diversidad ecológica y cultural. Niños de ocho de las ciudades hermanas visitaron Brest en junio del 2001, a exponer sus modelos en el Ayuntamiento. También trabajaron en conjunto para crear un mapa del jardín gemelo para que se construyera en Brest en el futuro. Durante el año, este proyecto le dio al personal del Conservatoire la oportunidad de trabajar con los educadores medio ambientales de Brest, departamentos de la ciudad, y niños de diferentes partes del mundo, utilizando a la naturaleza y a la cultura como foco para el descubrimiento colectivo.
About the Author
I would like to thank Frantz Hopkins for the translation of this text, and Gaëlle Kéroullé, for the proofreading. Gaëlle Kéroullé, artist, 47, rue Louis Pasteur, 29200 Brest.
By Loïc Ruellan, Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest, Vallon du Stang-alar, 52, Allée du Bot, F-29200 Brest, France. Tel : 33 2 98 41 88 95. Fax : 33 2 98 41 57 21.