Kate Middleton and Prince William Team Up with Students for a Fall Garden Day to Help Save the Planet
The royal couple joined school children from The Heathlands School in Hounslow, London, for on Wednesday as they tried out new ideas to help repair the planet. The goal for William and Kate, both 39, was to help spark big, bold plans to save the natural world — visions of change that the students can commit to for years to come.
William embraced more muted tones in a navy blazer and slacks over a light blue button-down. He also carried a meaningful accessory — a superhero figurine meant to signify the hidden super powers — including bold, unorthodox ideas — that kids can use to help save the world.
"Children can be uniquely creative," he said in a statement, "and I can't wait to see some of the ideas that are shared with us."
"They helped inspire us," Yusuf Rawn, 12, told PEOPLE.
Kalima Wojcikiew, 12, told PEOPLE that the kids' meeting with the royals on Wednesday made her realize they "could make some of these ideas a reality." She added that the group "thought outside the box. We shared a lot of our ideas. It made a big impact with us as well. Earthshot is helping make the world aware. Something has to be done."
Another innovative idea came from 12-year-old Seneja Kotagoda, who suggested a contraption to connect irrigation to water their plants in order to defeat deforestation in the school backyard. Ardent apiarist Kate suggested they have a beehive at the heart of it.
"Children are so comfortable around them," Olympian Helen Glover told PEOPLE of William and Kate. "I think they see them opening up the floor, speaking freely and easily, and talking excitedly to them."
Responding to the group activities, Glover said, "You might imagine the children would be nervous, but because they're so warm and welcoming and saying 'No idea is a bad idea.' It makes it easy for them to engage like that."
The Cambridges and the students were joined not only by Glover but also by London Mayor Sadiq Khan and explorer, naturalist and presenter Steve Backshall MBE.
The event was "entirely positive," said Glover, "and why shouldn't it be? Because it's positive minds going not, 'We hope to do it,' or 'We might do it,' but 'We WILL do it."
Alison Bellwood, director of the World's Largest Lesson, which collaborated with the Earthshot Prize for Wednesday's event, told PEOPLE: "One of the things that a lot of young people talk about is wanting to feel heard and wanting the opportunity to share what they think and feel and their ideas with people who they perceive have real influence."
Bellwood continued, "The Duke and Duchess do have real influence. To give them the opportunity to sit in a slightly unusual situation they have been heard and shared ideas and somewhere along the line that has influenced both sides. And it's given the children the chance to feel they are being invited to take part in solving these problems rather than being the recipients of decisions that are made away from them."
Backshall agreed, "We may be dealing with schoolkids, but that's the attitude that we need our leaders to have if we're to have any chance to have any big impact on our planet's problems. It starts now and with actual action — taking ideas and make things happen."
Mayor Khan said the royals "attract the kids by being confident, they're not patronizing. The kids are fizzing, over the moon. They won't forget this afternoon. That's the impression they have left. They realize that this generation will not forgive us if our generation doesn't solve these problems."
And though the challenge ahead is very serious, he did joke, "I hope neither William nor Catherine decide to run for mayor."
The couple's office at Kensington Palace say that recent research shows that 39% of young people say concern for the environment is one of their main worries about the future. So, Generation Earthshot aims to encourage students and their teachers around the world to unlock their potential and come up with solutions to the world's urgent environmental challenges.
"There was an authenticity" to the afternoon, Backshall told PEOPLE. He noted that William and Kate "absolutely knew what everything here was about. They sat down to the kids and listened to them and worked with them. It's from the heart and genuine and people get that and connect to it. They are living it, they're owning it and people will respond to that."
He added, "They're effortless at it. They've got kids themselves."
The Generation Earthshot event at Kew Gardens was part of the run-up to William's groundbreaking Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony this weekend.
On Sunday, William and Kate will join a star-studded lineup in announcing which five ideas from among the 15 previously announced finalists will receive $1.3 million to grow and advance their plans.
The Earthshot Prize Ceremony will be broadcast live from London's Alexandra Palace on exclusively on Discovery's Facebook Page and later in the month on discovery+. Emma Thompson, Emma Watson, David Oyelowo and Mo Salah are among the presenters who will celebrate change-makers with a passion for global environmental issues. Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes and KSI and Yemi Alade will performan — as will Coldplay, whose set will be powered by 60 cyclists.