Reflections on the 2019 Childhood Summit

The Childhood Summit is a bringing together of all those who directly or indirectly work in support of children. From teachers to community workers, planners to health professionals, researchers to environmentalists, and parents to government employees.

The Summit is a collaboration of hearts and minds with one central focus: ‘How are our children doing and how are we going at supporting modern childhood?’ 

In Brisbane, from the 28th to the 30th of March 2019, the inaugural Childhood Summit was brought to life by Nature Play QLD.

This was the first national child-centred event that intentionally brought together professionals from across multiple sectors to reflect and self-assess their joint services capacity to support modern children.

Over 300 delegates, including representatives from every state in Australia, working across health, education, infrastructure and planning, community, environment and early childhood, came together to take stock, hear directly from both experts and children and discuss how to reshape our services to better support modern children.


The Child’s Voice

The child’s voice was front and centre throughout the conference. Each day started by first hearing directly from children. Young people told us what was important to them, what it is like growing up in 2019 and how they think adults can best support modern childhood. This Child’s Voice set the tone for each day and was constantly referred to throughout the rest of the grown-ups’ deliberations.


The Host – Nature Play QLD

Nature Play QLD was the host of the inaugural Childhood Summit in 2019, which meant a strong emphasis was placed on outdoor play during this year’s Childhood Summit.


2019 Childhood Summit Structure

Over the three days there were many insightful keynote addresses, engaging thought-leader forums, inspiring best practice tours, practical workshops and walk shops, a lively hot button discussion and a vital symposium on play policy.


A huge Loose Parts Play Pit was installed in which over 250 children came to show the grown-ups how play is done.



Over 22 Queensland organisations were celebrated and showcased in the Champions of Childhood Inspiration Gallery.

These inspiring services generously shared their innovations with the summit delegates.


Key Learning Moments

The 2019 Childhood Summit delivered so many powerful learning opportunities and raised the awareness of how best to support the modern child.

Below are some of these key learning highlights:

The Child’s Voice Keynote Speakers taught us many important lessons including:

Sarah, 10 years old, convinced us that outdoor play is vital for child development. Adults need to prioritise this for children and examine all the barriers grown-ups have created and are creating between children and outdoor play. 

Kiama, 10 years old, gave great advice on how to make our neighbourhoods more accessible and interesting for children, how to support sick children in play and how to improve counselling for children.

Violet, 8 years old, talked about imagination, how nurturing this is critical during childhood, how adults can support imaginative pursuits and do better at ensuring children have plenty of opportunities to strengthen their abilities to be creative.   

Tom, 11 years old, conveyed how young people want to have a voice, want to be heard, have lots of great ideas and how important it is to take the time to truly listen to children. 


Griffin Longley, Nature Play Australia, painted a picture of the state of outdoor play across Australia. He observed the continuing decline of outdoor play in childhood and the failure of governments to prioritise and act on the importance of outdoor play. Much more needs to be done to fully revitalise outdoor play. Griffin also challenged us to consider and value children as they are now and to stop thinking of them as incomplete adults. 


 Mac Macartney, UK based Author, Leadership Coach and Childhood Advocate, spoke on the ‘Children’s Fire’ igniting a positive approach, and the knowledge that we can all do better  
 and that leaders can do more to support modern children. Mac set the challenge for us to consider the impact of our decisions on children, asking, “Who are we to not put the needs of our  children at the centre of institutions?”.





Dr Bruce Hurst, University of Melbourne, challenged delegates to consider the framework through which we view children and offered a more collaborative way of working with children to achieve more inclusivity and better outcomes for children.

Professor Desiree Silva, Paediatrician, Researcher and Lecturer, University of Western Australia, highlighted the importance of the environment on children’s development – as well as the need for children to engage in outdoor play and the developing trends in children’s health issues as a result of the growing cultural shift towards an indoor childhood.


 Dr Mari Swingle, Canadian based Author, Neuronal Researcher and Practicing Therapist, gave delegates a stark lesson on the impact of screens on the developing brain, 
 and how modern digital media hijacks children’s interest in the real world – causing autistic-like behaviours and degrading relationships with primary caregivers. Dr Swingle urged 
 delegates to first strengthen the development of empathy in infants by not letting them use screens before the age of two, and then ensuring strong relationships with primary  caregivers, by further preventing access to screens until the age of six.


 Jason Smith, Principal of Mount Tamborine State School, 2018 Australian Primary School of the Year, is an expert in child centred learning and inspired delegates with the 
 school’s supportive approach to listening to its children and working with them.






Delegate Feedback

The evaluation and feedback from delegates on the Inaugural Childhood Summit were overwhelmingly positive.

The overall satisfaction rating was of 8.7/10.

97% of delegates found the Childhood Summit was good value for money, and 94% of delegates would attend another Childhood Summit in the future.

The presence of children and the opportunities for children to speak to delegates were overwhelmingly the highlights and greatest strengths of the 2019 Childhood Summit.


Comments from delegates on the impact of the Child’s Voice during the Summit

“I have shared the voices of the children with my organisation and it is shaping how we train mentors to deliver nature programs to children. We are including FUN, IMAGINATION, PLAY, FRIENDS and VOICES”.

“The Child's Voice affirmed for me how deeply children think about ‘big’ issues and how capable they are in being part of the decision-making process.”

“The Child’s Voice speakers really touched my heart and bought tears to my eyes! It is so important to listen and hear all children's voices. They all expressed their views with passion and pride! Well done to all. Well done Nature Play QLD for holding a beautiful space for them to be heard. This will for sure cause a ripple effect! I know for me it already has!”

“All of the children were absolutely wondering and very inspiring. Their honesty was wonderful, and they have 100% changed my perspective and given me lots of motivation to listen better and ask more to better understand the children around me.”

“One of my absolute all-time favourite moments from any PD I’ve ever attended. Powerful, authentic, meaningful, pertinent. Thank you, Tom, Violet, Sarah and Kiama.”

'Sarah's words especially stuck with me "We keep making excuses and searching for other worlds on devices, always feeling empty like we aren't achieving anything...Stop searching, no more excuses".'



Overall feedback on the 2019 Childhood Summit

 “The summit brought together a diverse range of people with different views, opinions and backgrounds. This diverse group were united in the goal of supporting families and communities to enable great childhoods.”

“This PD had more of an impact on my ideas and beliefs than almost any other that I have done in my profession. I was inspired and excited by almost every part of the two days I attended.”

 “I thought the event was brilliant. Being able to share thoughts with like-minded people was really inspiring. Also, bringing together all the pieces of the puzzle in the industry was like no other event. Well done Nature Play QLD!”

“I loved the keynote speakers and have walked away very inspired. It was really life changing for me.”

“I left feeling really inspired and hope to start change in my small town. I feel we have lost our way what is so important and all around us.”

“Left the summit feeling extremely motivated and inspired. Lots of ideas to take back to my workplace and work towards incorporating in our center.”

“Great to see, hear and meet so many people with passion for better childhoods.”

“It was AMAZING! I gained so much insight and knowledge.”

“Wonderful, real life solution to real life problems. Bringing people from all walks of life together.”

“Mac Macartney was a standout for me and Bruce Hurst (was) also wonderful to listen to. Maggie Dent was fantastic, and I could listen to her all day. Oh, and Jason Smith!!! You need to clone him. The variation of speakers kept every day engaging and thought provoking.”

 “Wonderful experience. Powerful learning and networking with people who are doing absolutely incredible work in a variety of ways and in a multitude of settings. It was powerful, useful and enlightening.”


Where to from here - The Childhood Summit in the future

The Childhood Summit demonstrated the need for regular cross-sector reflection on how to best support modern children. This was just the starting point. So much work is required to make the most of these opportunities to positively impact childhood. 

The Childhood Summit is a gift to children of Australia. No one owns it and therefore, anyone can take up the task of shaping, delivering, and hosting the next Childhood Summit. A challenge was set to the audience: “Who would like to take up the 2020 delivery of the Childhood Summit?” Feel free to approach us to discuss this option.

In 2021 Nature Play QLD intends to hold the Childhood Summit again in Brisbane.


Where to from here - Nature Play QLD

We heard loud and clear that children want to be heard. That children are frustrated at not being given a voice. They have given us a chance to do something with this information. We now have a small window of time to demonstrate to children that we are worthy of their trust by taking action.

Nature Play QLD is working on plans to develop a system and platform to regularly hear from children and act directly on their advice.


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