Getting kiwi kids outside (New Zealand Government and Toyota New Zealand)

The Goal  

One million conservation kids exploring their beautiful lands and taking action for nature.



The Solution

The natural environment is fundamental to New Zealand’s identity and the future prosperity of our people. While New Zealand is one of the richest areas of biodiversity on Earth, we also have one of the highest rates of threatened species. We don’t want the ‘wild child’ to be one of them!

Kiwi kids need our nature as much as it needs them. Since 2016 New Zealand’s Department of Conservation(DOC) has partnered with Toyota New Zealand on a family programme aimed at getting kiwi kids outside; taking risks, having fun and getting into nature. Toyota Kiwi Guardians is a National network of sites and conservation actions. With 87% urbanisation, the priority for the programme was a focus on urban nature opportunities. With sites close to urban centers and actions that can happen at local parks, reserves and back yards, Toyota Kiwi Guardians aims to remove barriers to families getting out and enjoying time together in nature. The vision for DOC was to activate urban conservation action alongside the priorities of supporting children’s connection to nature and family health and wellbeing.

The programme was developed following a social science study that looked at ‘connection to nature’ of kiwi kids. DOC’s National Education Strategy 2010-2030 outlines a number of educational initiatives specifically targeting young New Zealanders. Its primary focus is on young people, as evidence suggests that having contact with nature early on in their development has many health benefits for children, and early contact with nature, particularly during the ages of 6 to 12 years, will help lead to the development of positive attitudes and behaviours towards the environment. The goal of this proactive approach is to help foster as many young environmental advocates in New Zealand as possible, and DOC’s big education goal is to have one million conservation kids by 2030. Toyota Kiwi Guardians is seen as one of the pathways to make this happen, and has been developed with a family/whanau audience at its heart.

To measure the impact of Toyota Kiwi Guardians, we commissioned baseline research with New Zealand children using an established tool called The Connection to Nature Index (CNI). This gave us a starting place to develop a programme that would support the nature connection of kiwi kids, and have measurable outcomes.

Take a look at the programme online or follow our Facebook page.



The Impact

In the first two years of the programme, 22,000 Toyota Kiwi Guardian rewards have been redeemed, of which 8,000 were ‘unique individuals’; half of these individuals (mostly children) went on to claim more than one medal. T

Toyota Kiwi Guardians was developed to support children and families/whanau not currently connecting to conservation in their day to day lives to get outside.  Entry level site visits pick families up where they are, providing incentives to get out in nature close to home.

The Action medals, where children take action for conservation through a series of action awards, has been the most popular choice for kids re-engaging with Toyota Kiwi Guardians.  This is an area of the programme we are looking to strengthen and grow, creating stepping stones for kids and families/whanau to engage with and understand the nature challenges at their place and act for conservation.

Current programme development is looking at ways to deepen the integrity of the programme, making it more relevant and engaging across ethnicities and socio-economic groups.  Working alongside Maori as Treaty Partners is a priority for DOC across the organisation.  With the successful recent inclusion of a Maori Language Week medal, the programme is looking at the connectivity between celebrating New Zealand culture and building nature connections. With strong links between time in nature and positive mental and physical health outcomes, the opportunity is for TKG to actively support health outcomes, as a holistic programme that supports the nature connection and wellbeing of one million kiwi kids.

Highlights include:

  • A network of 99 sites across New Zealand/Aotearoa, including 80% urban, easily accessible sites.

  • A network of 8 action medals to address local/national conservation challenge.

  • 22,000 medals awarded

  • 4,000 actions that benefit conservation completed, including conservation advocacy, habitat creation, predator tracking, weed identification and control and litter collection.

  • 50% reengagement rate – one set of brothers have 20 medals each and are keen to get more

  • 8,000 ‘unique individuals’ – predominately children (99%) who are getting out and having a great time exploring new places

  • Children and parents tell us that they love the programme, that it motivates them to get outside and explore new places and importantly for us that it is fun!



Insider Tips

  • Research, measure and monitor. Toyota Kiwi Guardians was created out of a vision for getting more kids outside, having fun and taking risks in nature, and taking action for conservation.  There isn’t a map or guide book to address these opportunities and as we grow and learn we readily admit there is untapped potential for the Toyota Kiwi Guardians programme. Because of this we started with some solid social science to find out what we wanted to achieve and define our key audience.  We evaluate as part of our kaupapa (way of working; values; culture) and we are always looking for what we need to measure and who we need to work with next to get a robust, valuable and sustainable programme that delivers outcomes for children, families/whanau, communities and conservation.

  • Give-aways and free stuff are not the only motivator.  Toyota Kiwi Guardians awards medals and certificates to kids who participate in the programme, but this needs to be balanced with the intrinsic reward of the outcomes – enjoyment/time outside/time with family/understanding the issues/creating positive change for nature and conservation and positive choices for health and wellbeing.  This has prompted us to explore what motivates kids and families to engage and reengage.

  • Maintaining and nurturing a successful programme partnership is important and takes time and resource. Ensuring both parties are achieving their objectives, and creating a space to grow and develop the programme collaboratively is important to us.

  • Start small, learn and grow from there. We launched with only 20 sites and in two years have increased this to nearly 100, with more sites coming soon. With each wave of sites the process of development got smoother and faster. We started with some locations that were keen to get involved and the momentum has grown from there.

  • Finally, hold true to your vision and resist trying to stretch your programme to fit too many audiences or purposes. We wanted to develop a simple programme, that promoted conservation action and encouraged new children to have fun exploring nature. Although some schools use the programme it isn’t designed for them, and isn’t curriculum linked. Our priority is to keep the programme fun and easy for families.


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