Rewilding – a nature prescription at Cottage by the Sea

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Fresh, seaside air has been the prescription for children visiting Cottage by the Sea for more than a century. Our mission, values and philosophy have remained the same since our inception in 1890 – to enhance the lives of more children by providing inspiration, fun and opportunity within a holiday environment.

Nature is interwoven into Cottage by the Sea programs in myriad ways – from the nourishing food the children eat to the outdoor activities they undertake. Santa Casa Beach is literally at our doorstep, and this calm, coastal location on the Bellarine Peninsula is said to have the cleanest seawater in Port Phillip Bay. Now, research is showing us what we have known anecdotally for quite some time – that nature is not just the antidote for good health, but it is also often the cure.

What is rewilding and why do we need to spend time in nature?

Rewilding is described by Misha Ketchell, editor of The Conversation, as “giving more space and time to nature”. Ketchell explains the value of rewilding for young people: “A greater emphasis on the natural world in primary and secondary education could help guarantee the long-term success of rewilding efforts by nurturing enthusiasm from an early age.”

Why is time in nature so important for the wellbeing of young people? Nature-deficit disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv, author of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. A growing body of research suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to a reduced use of the senses, difficulties with attention and increased rates of emotional and physical illnesses. Encouragingly, studies have shown that spending time in nature can help to lower stress-hormone levels and anxiety, as well as boost immune-system function and self-esteem.

How do Cottage by the Sea programs help to rewild children?

Cottage by the Sea addresses wellbeing from a holistic lens, encompassing physical, mental and emotional health. Nature plays a big role in this multi-faceted approach. Cottage programs focus on spending time outdoors – which involves both green spaces (such as forests and parks) and blue spaces (such as beaches and rivers) – as a way to slow down and relax, feel inspired and cultivate awe, enhance connections and a sense of belonging, build resilience and overcome obstacles and, most importantly, have fun and be adventurous. These interactions form the alchemic process of rewilding.  

Spending intentional time outdoors brings us into the here and now, rewires the body and mind, and allows us to harness the restorative effects of nature. Mindfulness – focusing on the present moment – has a whole host of benefits, from helping to reduce anxiety and depression to improving sleep. Being mindful in nature has the potential to transform the lives of young people.

Children on Cottage by the Sea programs experience the effects of rewilding each week as they switch off from technology, connect with others, undertake activities outdoors and eat fresh food. In practice, this may look like an offsite adventure camping and bike-riding in the great outdoors, learning how to surf and boogie-board along our beautiful coastline, or enjoying a picnic in nature and eating freshly caught seafood from a local fishing charter.  

Feedback from program participants about their experiences in nature

For one child, their favourite activity on the REEF program was “bike-riding because it was in the fresh air and with friends”. Another child undertaking this same activity enjoyed it “because it was in the bush”. For one participant, they loved camping on the REEF program “because we got to be adventurous”.

The transformative effects of rewilding were experienced first-hand by our Mentor participants on an offsite trip to the mountains. One young person said “it was good to get out in the fresh air”, while another described the benefits of nature for enhancing connections: “Being away from social media and technology on the Mentor program breaks down barriers to connect with people in real life.”

The ocean activities undertaken on Cottage programs – from surfing, snorkelling and swimming with seals to fishing on a boat charter – offer similar benefits. One of the children said, “I had lots of fun on the boat with the seals.” Another participant expressed that their favourite activity was surfing and “really enjoyed being in the ocean for the water activities”.