11 July 2023

Kids all over the Illawarra are engaging with Poem Forest, an initiative to help green the 'Gong

| Dione David
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Farmborough Road Public School write for Poem Forest poetry contest

Inspired, Farmborough Road Public School students learned from Worimi poet Nicole Smede. Photos: Wollongong City Council.

Have you got a budding poet in the house? A young environmentalist? Perhaps a child who is both? They might be a shoo-in for Poem Forest.

The poetry contest created by Red Room Poetry and delivered in partnership with Wollongong City Council invites students and teachers across Australia to submit nature-themed poems and see them come to life with a tree planted for each.

The contest runs until the end of September and already more than 670 poems and counting have been submitted.

For each entry, a seedling is planted in the Wollongong LGA, which has the lowest tree canopy cover in NSW.

children planting trees

The students also planted trees along Allans Creek with council and Wollongong Botanic Garden staff.

One such entry came from Olivia at Austinmer Primary School:

I went for a stroll, in a gorgeous wood.
It had little creatures. I stared, and I stood,
For this was a beautiful sight,
I stayed there and watched through the night.
The wood had some flowers, and oh, they smelt good.

Over at Lake Illawarra High School, English teacher Shannon McLoughlin tapped into the advantages of the school’s lakeside location to incorporate Poem Forest into her curriculum.

The assessment task for her poetry unit was to create a series of poems, including one that is focused on nature. For this, Ms McLoughlin took the students outside the four walls of the classroom and out by the lake.

“The kids see the lake every day, they spend time in this beautiful environment where we live but they don’t necessarily get to stop, soak it up and appreciate it often enough,” she said.

“Spending time teaching in nature, they were engaged straight away. I’ve never seen them take to a worksheet so quickly. And by far the environmental poems were their best work.”

School student planting trees along Allans Creek with Wollongong City Council staff

The initiative could help the council achieve its goal of increasing local tree canopy cover from 17 per cent to 35 per cent.

Ms McLoughlin said both she and the students found the exercise inspiring.

“It sparked the kind of informal discussions you don’t necessarily have in the classroom where it’s generally very structured,” she said.

“There was a lot of asking of questions, we talked about how much time we spend on our phones, whether we’d done any gardening or landcare at home and how often we’d actually had our bare feet on the grass or soil. I think we were all surprised at how seldom we do this.

“Our school has a high Indigenous student population, too, so a fair few students already knew already knew a lot about the land, and they were teaching the other students about bushcraft and bush tucker.”

The students wrote their environmental poems on seeded paper, which will eventually be planted on school grounds or in pots.

“They enjoyed that each of their poems translated to a tree planted on Dharawal land and helping the environment. The whole exercise created a deeper connection to nature.”

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In a workshop last month, Farmborough Road Public School students learned from Worimi poet Nicole Smede and planted trees along Allans Creek with council and Wollongong Botanic Garden staff.

Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery said it was important to involve the next generation in sustainability initiatives.

“The trees these kids are planting will grow and provide shade for their future homes, businesses and recreational areas as well as support our native wildlife,” he said.

“It’s time for local young people and teachers to grab a pen and get writing. The learning resource is packed with poetry writing prompts and templates for teachers and parents to use.”

students writing poetry for Poem Forest poetry contest

School students and teachers across Australia are encouraged to enter.

The best poem in each category will earn the author $500, a book pack, a poetry journal and a ‘Wild Things’ poster print. Plus, every Wollongong student or teacher who submits a poem will receive a voucher for a seedling they can plant at home or have a tree planted locally on their behalf.

The latter could be a help towards the council’s urban greening program, which aims to increase local tree canopy cover from the current 17 per cent to 35 per cent by 2037.

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It’s part of the council’s Greening Your Suburb campaign, which will require substantial community involvement, given 75 per cent of land in Wollongong is private property.

“Positive climate action involves everyone, from multi-million-dollar companies right through to schoolchildren. We all have a role to play in protecting the planet for future generations,” Cr Bradbery said.

“Increasing canopy cover is critical to building climate resilience in Wollongong.”

Grab your pen and visit Poem Forest to enter before Friday 22 September 2023.

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